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It’s October, which means we once again celebrate Health Literacy Month, a time for organizations to promote the importance of clear, understandable health information. It’s also open enrollment season, with Medicare’s open enrollment running October 15 through December 7, the Federal Marketplace’s open enrollment starting up soon on November 1 and going through December 15, and many states holding their exchange open enrollment periods around the same time. This year, it’s also about understanding if consumers feel confident in their ability to make health insurance decisions during an open enrollment period when many policy reforms are under consideration, and the future directions of federal programs like Medicare and Medicaid remain unclear.

Keeping health literacy in the conversation

We know that the complexities of health care can have a big impact on consumer confidence about health decisions. A recent UnitedHealthcare Consumer Sentiment Survey found that while 72 percent of participants polled said that they are prepared to select a health plan during open enrollment, only 9 percent could successfully define the key concepts of plan premiums, deductibles, coinsurance and out-of-pocket maximums. Whether it’s Medicaid, Medicare, employer-sponsored insurance or the various health insurance marketplaces, consumers may be faced with more complex choices than ever before as they enroll for 2018 health coverage. We have an obligation to address these challenges head on, to increase both health literacy and consumer confidence as they navigate the health care arena.

Key questions to ask your organization

The Maximus Center for Health Literacy encourages health organizations to keep these key health literacy questions top of mind when engaging consumers:

  • Are we reaching consumers on their preferred channels? While digital communication is becoming more and more important, it’s also good to remember that many communities prefer face-to-face communication and written materials. Are organizations meeting people where they need to?
  • Are we providing consumers with the information they need? Are organizations providing access to valid information?
  • Do consumers understand the information? There are more complicated health insurance choices than ever, and that can make decisions harder, not easier. Do consumers understand information well enough to make the best decisions for themselves and their families?
  • Do consumers have confidence to make well-informed health insurance decisions? Consumers will value different factors in health care. For some, it’s higher quality. For others, it’s out-of-pocket maximums. But they all share a common goal of needing to understand their options and feeling confident that they’ve chosen the best one. Can consumers take the appropriate action needed?
  • Do consumers know that their choices may be different this year? Do they know which health plans have come and gone? Do they know which premiums have changed, and what the new deadlines are for enrollment?

As we go down this new path, let’s continue to educate consumers with clear, understandable health information. This year, don’t just focus on health literacy – focus on giving consumers the confidence they need to make good choices.