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Live Healthy, Atlanta! Thought Leader

Increase Your Health Care Literacy with Two Guides

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

When pressed, can you explain what coinsurance is? Can you describe an in-network Out of Pocket maximum? Do you know the difference between copays and deductibles? If you’re not sure what any of those terms mean, you’re in the majority, according to a blog post on WashingtonPost.com today.

These basic insurance terms aren’t fully understood by most Americans, and our poor insurance literacy has some experts worried. From October 2013 to March 2014, 30 million people will be buying health insurance for the first time through the new online marketplaces. The Affordable Care Act mandates that insurance companies provide easy-to-understand definitions, but insurance is so complex that even the simplest explanations can be hard to understand.

Two new guides from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) – the health arm of the National Academy of Science – are part of the push to improve health insurance literacy ahead of the opening of the insurance marketplaces. The National Academy was chartered in the 1800s by President Lincoln; however, the IOM operates outside of the government, providing unbiased, authoritative advice to the public and to policy makers. Experts across the country contributed to the new guides (one meant for patients, one geared towards educators) including doctors from our own backyard.

Dr. Ruth Parker is an internist and pediatrician who specializes in health literacy research at Emory University. Parker, along with experts at the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine, a few young doctors and some Emory students distilled unwieldy information about health insurance into a straightforward guide for everyone.

Picture from the IOM “The New Health Care Act and You” guide

At 22 pages long, The New Health Care Law and You is one of the most concise guides on health insurance available. The guide breaks down the type of health insurance that’s appropriate and available for individual Americans based on the criteria they meet. Medicaid, Medicare, CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) and a litany of other types of health insurance are explained in simple terms. For each health insurance program, eligibility and benefits are listed along with instructions on how to obtain coverage.

The National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine also published a resource for educators hoping to increase ACA literacy ahead of the opening of the health insurance marketplaces. The guide,Helping Consumers Understand and Use Health Insurance in 2014, is meant for everyone from health care professionals to community organizers. The guide defines insurance terms succinctly and provides useful explanations that feature examples of everyday life to explain key concepts.

Health care costs have been rising for decades, as has the complexity of the system. So many plans exist, it’s hard to know which one is right for you or the people you care for. Industry jargon is hard for even experts to understand, so it’s no wonder the majority of us are left scratching our heads. If you’re one of the 30 million uninsured, helping someone get insurance for the first time, or just trying to make sense of your insurance bill, the new guides will help you decipher industry lingo. Got more questions? Next week, I’ll be sharing an “Insurance FAQ” on the blog – be sure to check back and post your own questions in the comments. I’ll do my best to answer them.

Here are links to the two new guides:

The New Health Care Law and You

Helping Consumers Understand and Use Health Insurance in 2014

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll remember my short series on sleep. Fresh Air interviewed neuroscientist Penelope Lewis, author of The Secret World of Sleep: The Surprising Science of the Mind at Rest. The piece aired on August 15, but you can still listen to the interview podcast. It’s worth a listen. Lewis discusses current theories about sleep, the role of our resting state in forming memories, and ways to get to bed.  

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