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3 Tips to Boost Your Employees’ Health Insurance Literacy

Your employees are healthcare consumers making their way through the post-healthcare reform marketplace. With each symptom, office visit and claim they’re learning how to manage their health, provider relationships, medical costs and insurance coverage. It’s a lot of work that takes time, energy and the development of new skill sets—including health and health insurance literacy. And educational support from employers can help.

The literacy connection

The US Department of Health and Human Services defines health literacy as the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.1 

More specific to health insurance is health insurance literacy. The Health Insurance Literacy Expert Roundtable defines this as the degree to which individuals have the knowledge, ability, and confidence to find and evaluate information about health plans, select the best plan for their own (or their family’s) financial and health circumstances, and use the plan once enrolled.2 

Health and health insurance literacy, taken together, is a critical workplace benefits skill because it impacts an employee’s ability to assess their healthcare coverage needs, make appropriate plan selections and protect their family’s finances from devastation should the “unthinkable” happen. And, of course, literacy impacts an employee’s health status—an important marker of employee wellness, satisfaction and productivity.

The state of Americans’ health literacy

How well do people understand basic insurance terms and concepts? Results from a nationally representative Kaiser Family Foundation survey reveal significant room for health literacy improvement among American adults. Consider these finding highlights.3 

  • Only 79% knew that you have to pay your health insurance premium every month, regardless of whether you use services.
  • Only 76% correctly identified the best definition of “health insurance premium” as the amount health insurance companies charge each month for coverage.
  • Only 76% correctly identified the best definition of a health plan “provider network” as the hospitals and doctors that contract with your health plan to provide services for an agreed-upon rate or fee schedule.
  • Only 72% correctly identified the best definition of “annual health insurance deductible” as the amount of covered health expenses you must pay yourself each year before your insurance will begin to pay.
  • Only 67% correctly identified the best definition of “annual out-of-pocket limit” as the most you will have to pay in deductibles, copays, and coinsurance for covered care received in network for the year.
  • Only 51% could calculate the out-of-pocket charges for a hospital stay with a deductible and copay.

Those that didn’t get the answers correct either got the wrong answer or they didn’t know. But this signals an opportunity for employers to help their workforce arrive at a better understanding of how insurance works—so they can make the most of their benefits while taking care of their family’s health and finances.

How employers can help raise health insurance literacy

Taking a cue from the National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy, employers can play their part in helping individuals and families gain access to health information that helps them make informed decisions.4 Here are 5 tips—adapted from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommendations—to ensure your employee benefit communications promote health insurance literacy.5

1. Know your audience.

Don’t assume that your employees have a high level of health insurance literacy. Why not survey your employees or hold some health insurance literacy focus groups while you’re assessing plans for the next benefits year? It helps to evaluate their understanding of health insurance terms and concepts before, during, and after the introduction of benefits information and services. This will make it easier for you to develop education and training materials for open enrollment and benefits support.

2. Keep it simple and use plain language.

Make sure all of the information you’re sharing is appropriate, clear and actionable for your employees. That means:

  • Sending them the right “mix” of messages on different, relevant topics
  • Sending the right “amount” of messages so they’re not overloaded
  • Using language—in a familiar and active voice—that people understand, taking care to define key terms
  • Making it clear in each communication what next steps you want them to take

3. Make written communication look easy to read.

Best practices include:

  • Using at least 12-point font
  • Avoid using all capital letters, italics and fancy script
  • Keeping line length between 40 and 50 characters
  • Breaking up text with headings and bullets
  • Leaving plenty of white space around the margins and between sections.
  • Enhancing text with video or audio files

Want more ideas? Don’t miss Effective Communication for Employee Benefit Packages.



1 (n.d.). Retrieved March 05, 2018, from opens in a new window
2 file opens in a new window.
3 Mira Norton, Liz Hamel Follow @lizhamel on Twitter , and Mollyann Brodie Follow @Mollybrodie on Twitter Published: Nov 11, 2014, & 2014, N. (2014, November 12). Assessing Americans Familiarity With Health Insurance Terms and Concepts. Retrieved March 05, 2018, from opens in a new window
4 (n.d.). Retrieved March 05, 2018, from opens in a new window
5 (n.d.). Retrieved March 05, 2018, from opens in a new window