Uninsured consumers need help with literacy skills


Signing up for health insurance this upcoming enrollment period will be a huge challenge for many uninsured Americans because of low levels of literacy and numeracy skills, according to a new report from the Urban Institute, which was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

"It's not just the cost of insurance that is a barrier to uninsured people accessing coverage," Katherine Hempstead, who directs coverage issues for RWJF, said in a statement that was emailed to FierceHealthPayer. "Understanding the dimensions of plans offered and how much they'll cost proves to be confusing to a majority of uninsured people and could explain why they haven't enrolled yet."

Almost 60 percent of uninsured consumers have limited abilities to read or work with numbers, according to the report. Of those uninsured consumers lacking strong literacy and numeracy skills, most are nonwhite, have less education or are low-income. 

Without those skills, navigating and choosing the best coverage sold on the exchanges is difficult as they likely struggle to evaluate the available plans. That's why it would benefit insurers to provide additional resources, including easy-to-understand information and in-person support, to assist these consumers throughout the enrollment process.

For instance, Minneapolis-based UnitedHealthcare developed a "Happiness Counts" kit that informs seniors--via postcards, journals and other information--on how to best manage and take care of their health, FierceHealthPayer previously reported. 

What's more, the report noted that benefit design and cost-sharing information should be simplified. "This may ultimately lead to a simplification of plan features and design, but in the short term there is a need for carriers and those creating plan choice tools to strive to better support consumer choice, particularly for those with limited numeracy and literacy," the report's authors wrote.

But it's not just uninsured individuals who struggle to understand plan benefits and insurance jargon. For example, 37 percent of current enrollees don't know the amount of their deductibleFierceHealthPayer previously reported. 

To learn more:
- read the Urban Institute report

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