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New Consumers Union Report Launches Project to Measure Health Insurance Literacy, Calls for Partners

Testing shows consumers dread buying health insurance largely because they don’t understand it

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

New Consumers Union Report Launches Project to Measure Health Insurance Literacy, Calls for Partners
WASHINGTON, DC – A new report released by Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports, kicks off an initiative to develop a new way of evaluating how consumers respond to health insurance materials. The effort with partners American Institutes for Research and University of Maryland looks to create a measure of health insurance literacy as a key step to eliminating barriers that consumers face when trying to understand their health insurance options.

Testing has shown that consumers dread buying health insurance largely because they don’t understand it. In order to improve this understanding and activate consumers in the health insurance marketplace, the initiative seeks to develop a literacy measurement tool that currently does not exist for health insurance issues.
“When consumers don’t understand health insurance, it causes frustration and may undermine their coverage selection and access to healthcare” said Lynn Quincy, senior health policy analyst for Consumers Union. “Just like we can evaluate reading levels or financial literacy, we are looking to develop a measure of health insurance literacy. With this tool, we can work towards creating health insurance documents that consumers understand and better serve everyone involved in the health insurance experience.”

The report, entitled Measuring Health Literacy: A Call to Action, contains the findings from an all day roundtable meeting featuring experts from health plans, academics and advocates currently working in the fields of health literacy or financial literacy. The expert panel confirmed that current measures of health literacy cannot meet this need and endorsed the launch of a multi-stakeholder project to create a health insurance literacy measure. To provide the foundation for the project, the participants developed a preliminary concept of what a health insurance literate person would be able to do and crafted a working definition of health insurance literacy.

The expert panel anticipates that the forthcoming health insurance literacy tool could be used by more than just researchers. This information could be used by insurance plans to better target health plan communications. Policymakers could craft more meaningful legislation. Regulations today often require that certain health plan documents be “understandable by the average plan enrollee” and this measure would provide a method to identify that. This type of measure would also be beneficial to improving consumer education programs on the issue.

In order to develop a robust measure that will be widely accepted by all, Consumers Union and its partners are seeking the participation of all interested researchers and stakeholders. Policy makers, regulators, health insurance plans, consumer educators and advocates and others working on health or financial literacy issues are welcome.

To join the effort to develop a health insurance literacy measure, please visit http://www.consumersunion.org/health_insurance_literacy_project. To read the full report on the initiative, please click here.

Contact: David Butler or Kara Kelber, 202-462-6262