Patients Struggle with Health Insurance
Written by Editor   
Thursday, June 19, 2014 12:00 AM

Insurance is often perplexing even to savvy consumers. Patients have been confused about health insurance for a long time. The new health law "just adds another layer on top of that."  Acronyms abound: HMOs, PPOs, ACOs. Letters arrive in the mail saying "this is not a bill" yet appear to be just that. Some detail exorbitant prices that have nothing to do with what is actually owed.  Language and cultural barriers add to the confusion.  It's a big problem. About one in 10 people in the U.S. have a proficient level of health literacy, according to an assessment by the U.S. Department of Education -- that is, they could understand and use health-related information in daily activities.  More than 40 percent of Americans couldn't explain a deductible -- the amount patients owe for health services before insurance kicks in. The authors found that those likely to benefit most from the health law -- uninsured and low-income Americans -- had the least awareness.

Health officials have spent much of the past year promoting the Affordable Care Act and enrolling people in coverage. Now they need to help consumers understand the basics of health insurance and how to use their policies, healthcare providers and researchers say.

"Giving somebody an insurance card and not really telling them what that insurance is going to do for them is not going to produce the health outcomes that we all want to see."  If the goal is to improve health and lower costs ... it is really important to equip consumers with the education they need."

Patients who don't grasp fundamental health and insurance concepts are less likely to make smart decisions about when and where to seek care, experts said. In fact, people with low "health literacy," as experts put it, are more likely to be hospitalized and use costly emergency rooms, according to the Institute of Medicine.