Did you know the 2019 open enrollment period runs from November 1 to December 15? Only 11.9% of Americans could correctly identify these dates according to a recent survey, compared to 21% in 2018.
In a 2019 Health Insurance Literacy Survey, a health care organization used Google Consumer Surveys to poll a nationally representative sample of 1,500 people from October 1 to October 3, 2019.
The survey shows Americans are growing increasingly illiterate when it comes to health insurance plans. While 28% thought health insurance plans were not required to cover a set of essential health benefits, 44% held this incorrect belief in 2019.
This lack of knowledge could explain why so many people avoid health care. In fact, 27% said uncertainty over their coverage had led them to avoid treatment.
Catina O’Leary, president and CEO of Health Literacy Media, a nonprofit devoted to promoting the understanding of health information, said, “The problem is the rules aren’t clear and the consequences are really high.”
Consumers are even confused about health plan basics. Less than a third of respondents could correctly define a copay, deductible and premium.
Christine Wilson, spokeswoman for the National Patient Advocate Foundation, said the inability to speak the health care language prevents consumers from making uninformed choices. People have called her saying, “I’ve got a shoe box full of bills. I had no idea they weren’t covered.”
If consumers are avoiding care, this could lead to a sicker marketplace pool and higher costs for all. It behooves insurance companies to devote additional resources to educating consumers on the fundamentals of health care.
The government could also be part of the solution. The Trump administration has cut back on advertising and enrollment assistance, perhaps contributing to the illiteracy.
The administration’s recent offering of short-term health plans may also contribute to the confusion as consumers must contend with the paradox of choice.
The organization posits consumer confusion stems from the misinformation that has accompanied the debate over the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) survival the past few years. Between the administration zeroing out the individual mandate and courts discussing the ACA’s constitutionality, it could be hard for consumers to get a clear read on the status of the ACA. 80% of respondents erroneously believed this individual mandate still existed.
Given the debates over health care ahead of the 2020 presidential election and open enrollment period, all health care stakeholders have a heightened responsibility to educate consumers as soon as possible on health care coverage. Not only would this improve consumers’ health, it would help everyone’s bottom line.