« July 2016 Issue

As Enrollment Increases, Need for Health Literacy Remains Top Consumer Concern

As health care professionals, advocates or enthusiasts, it’s all too easy for us to find ourselves slipping into shorthand – abbreviating commonly used acronyms, referring to rules changes simply by their numerals and informing one another of complex policy changes with relative ease. Yet for the vast majority of Americans, this level of understanding of health care and health insurance is often beyond reach.

Though we’ve made great strides over the past four years in terms of enrollment – with approximately 20 million individuals receiving health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – we have much work to do to ensure those newly covered are able to take full advantage of needed care. For the newly enrolled, and countless others, health insurance is just the beginning of a longer journey to better health.

As we know, health insurance is not, by itself, an outcome.

For the ACA to reach its full potential, consumers need to be educated and empowered to use the full benefits of their health insurance – whether through Medicaid and Medicare or private insurance. Health literacy is the ability of consumers to identify, understand and use complex information to guide their health care decisions. In essence, health literacy allows individuals and families to navigate the broader health system to obtain needed care and avoid unexpected costs.

“Our health care system is incredibly complex and being able to understand and navigate it is getting more and more difficult. It has been more than a decade since health reform was passed here in Massachusetts, and our health insurance HelpLine still continuously receives calls from people who need tailored, personalized health care coverage enrollment assistance both pre- and post-enrollment,” said Kate Segel, Senior Consumer Education and Enrollment Manager at Health Care For All Massachusetts.

The Challenge

Although some efforts have been made to address basic health literacy needs, a significant concern with much of the current health literacy material now available is the “one-size-fits-all” nature. As we transition individuals from initial access to be better-informed consumers of health care, we will need more materials  that resonate with the specific needs of individuals and communities – ethnic subgroups, LGBTQ persons and patients with certain chronic health conditions, to name but a few.

New materials need to convey complex information. The incorporation of graphics and more detailed examples will expound upon existing documents. Information should be in the format that consumers find accessible, whether on paper or online, and language appropriate. A key aspect of health and health insurance literacy promotion is audience awareness.

A recent Community Catalyst survey of local advocacy groups across 36 states – many of whom include assisters and others engaged directly with the newly enrolled – identified health insurance literacy-related assistance as well as broader health literacy as a priority need. More specifically, they requested help in developing community- and/or population-appropriate health insurance literacy tools, access to useful research and a mechanism for learning what consumer advocates are doing in other states.

Proposed Solutions

Community Catalyst, with its network of state and local partners on the ground, recognizes that health insurance is a tool that can unlock access to care, but only if consumers are prepared to know how to use it. Our state and community partners provide regular anecdotal evidence that corresponds with the latest research.

In contrast to the very successful ACA outreach, education and enrollment work, there currently is no comprehensive website or repository of health literacy-related materials, or any focused learning community or online forum. While initial funding allowed community groups to conduct outreach and enrollment, a significant lag exists for ongoing consumer assistance around using coverage and getting care, an area ripe for investment.

There is a strong and compelling need to adequately support consumer assistance for state and local organizations. Access to health literacy experts – with particular regard to underserved communities – is a critical part of that equation. Building the capacity of advocates and community-based organizations to increase their constituents’ health literacy and reinforcing the two-way communication between consumers and advocates is essential to this work.

“Everyone has a role in health literacy – and coordinating our activities may provide the much-desired catalyzing effect,” said Susan Sherry, deputy director of Community Catalyst. “For advocates, funders and health care professionals, health literacy is an important next step in our path toward a thriving, healthy population.”

Stephen Eisele, Communications Manager

O N   T H E   W I R E

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Tera Bianchi, project director of our Dental Access Project, joined Dan Gorenstein, the Health Desk host of American Public Media’s Marketplace radio program, to talk about the legislative victory authorizing Dental Therapists to practice in the state of Vermont.

Amanda Ptashkin, project manager for Southern Health Partners project, was quoted in a Savannah Morning News article about Louisiana’s new initiative to close the coverage gap, which has already led to over 225,000 citizens of that state gaining Medicaid coverage.

Jacquie Anderson, chief operating officer, has been appointed to the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network’s Board of Directors.

The Center for Consumer Engagement in Health Innovation was invited by the Jewish Healthcare Foundation to travel to Pittsburgh on June 21 to lead a day-long training for community and consumer groups, to help them prepare for and engage in the launch of Community HealthChoices, Pennsylvania’s planned Medicaid Managed Long-Term Services and Supports program. Center Director Ann Hwang, Deputy Director Renée Markus Hodin and Senior Policy Anaylst/LTSS Alice Dembner conducted the training.

Jessica Curtis, senior advisor, Hospital Accountability Project was quoted in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article about a wave of medical debt collection lawsuits in St. Louis, after a large health system outsourced its emergency department operations.

The Massachusetts Nonprofit Network gave one of its of 2016 Excellence Awards, in the category “Collaboration: Collective Impact,” to the Children’s Vision Massachusetts coalition. Eva Marie Stahl, project director of the Community Catalyst Alliance for Children’s Health, and Erin DiSanto, human resources manager, played active roles in the coalition’s efforts that resulted in improved access to prescription glasses for children in Massachusetts.

Join us in welcoming new staff members: Aryka Chapman, state advocacy manager, Substance Use Disorders Project; Ana Maria De La Rosa, state advocacy manager, Substance Use Disorders Project; Stephen Eisele, communications manager; Daniel Frost, digital communications specialist; Marissa Korn, program associate, State Consumer Health Advocacy Program; Rosa Palacios, consumer engagement specialist, Center for Consumer Engagement in Health Innovation; Kyle Marie Stock, senior policy analyst, Community Catalyst Alliance for Children’s Health.

Please also welcome our 2016 Summer Interns: Stephen Bozier, Karina Carrillo, Naomi Fedna, Andrew Jopson, Mitchell Luti and Shruti Shantharam. And we are pleased to have former intern Jasmine Bland and former practicum student Dan Orenstein continuing on project work with us this summer.

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