Consumers don’t understand the language of health plans and, thus, don’t know how to use them. Market research published by Regence, which covers 3 million Blues plan enrollees in Idaho, Oregon, Utah and Washington, says that consumers face a “steep learning curve” when it comes to health insurance lingo.

Regence’s study asked 961 health plan members to review their insurance bill and define terms used in it. The plan found that:
  • 60% of plan members answered correct only 50% of the time.
  • Only 4% of plan members achieved an 80% score.
  • People are embarrassed to ask questions about what words mean.
  • People rate their health plan as the most trustworthy source of information on their insurance coverage.
  • 90% of the insured feel adequately protected by their health plan.
Health Populi’s Hot Points: “It will be difficult for many health system reform ideas to get traction when people literally don’t know what we are talking about,” says Robert Harris, Regence’s head of market research. Amen to that. Full engagement requires people to ‘get’ health information, financial and clinical. But it’s incumbent on health plans, providers, and points in the supply chain (pharma, medical device, OTCs) to present their messages in ways that cut through clutter, grab peoples’ imaginations, and address consumers’ attention deficits. Consider how IDEO might pitch the message, for example. Read more about health literacy on the National Network of Libraries of Medicine website.

Regence is a stellar example of a health plan that is working hard to reach members where they ‘live.’ They launched an online Member Feedback site on myRegence.com that allows members to share experiences with providers. They’ve also provided members with healthy living videos on topics ranging from heart disease and sleep deprivation to “Porn in the USA,” about the dangers of pornography as a public health issue.

This is consumer-facing stuff, and organizations like Regence are facing the challenge of health literacy and engagement. Any hope of improving public health and the health cost spiral will require more of this approach.

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