Health literacy: Going in the wrong direction

The Obama administration is showing a disappointing lack of courage by shying away from one of the best provisions of health reform: requiring consumer-friendly summaries of what insurance plans are offering their customers.

The insurance industry has been complaining about the cost of doing this, and the administration seems to be listening because it does not want to seem to be imposing costly regulations in an election year. Arguably, insurance companies should have been doing this all along. This is simply a no-brainer. Consumers are being asked to become more engaged in their health and the cost of care. Not giving them the tools to do this is going in the wrong direction, with or without regulations.

One-third to one-half of U.S. adults do not have the literacy skills to navigate the health-care system. Studies have shown that poor health literacy is associated with higher rates of hospital readmissions, treatment complications and death.

 Health literacy is the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions. Reading comprehension and understanding numbers are the key components.

┬áThis problem is not entirely the patient’s fault. Anyone can have difficulty navigating densely written medication-insert instructions or medical-consent forms loaded with jargon and technical language. More than 300 studies have found that such health-related reading materials are written beyond the average reading comprehension of U.S. adults.

 

However, even my highly educated friends openly admit they refuse to read their health insurance information because it makes no sense to them.