The Health Literacy Crisis And How to Manage It

August 17, 2015 Ray Catudal

Open enrollment for individuals and families not covered under group policies is fast approaching.  Exchanges are trying to determine what strategies will work best to help consumers with the complex, and sometimes confusing, process of enrollment.

An Alarming Amount of Assistance Still Required

Information Literacy image

According to a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, new consumers to the market place need one to two hours of assistance to apply for coverage and returning consumers need one hour of help.

The report goes on to state that most or nearly all of consumers needed some level of help understanding basic insurance terms, such as “deductible” and most or nearly all consumers that assistors helped lacked confidence to apply on their own. One in five assistor programs even had to turn consumers away, since they did not have the resources that would have been required to help the growing numbers of people seeking assistance!

But the real revelation should be: people still do not understand health insurance and are not totally sure how to purchase it.

Consumers still need help understanding:

  • what insurance they should buy for their specific needs;
  • how to apply for a subsidy; or
  • how to really understand the health insurance they did buy.

Is Face-to-Face Help The Answer?

Two people talkingOne strategy is providing face-to-face help. Though Healthsource announced last week that they will be closing some of their retail facilities, the Massachusetts health exchange is considering extending their retail location customer service and even opening more health insurance walk-in centers to better assist the public.

The government recognizes the need for help and continues to fund navigators and assistors. Non-profits and brokers, too, are looking at ways to provide and offer better assistance.

This is a great win for navigators since it provides them with greater ongoing stability. It also shows that consumers like social interaction and the face-to-face meeting remains a good way for people to understand their options when enrolling in health plans.

This is extremely effective. It is also costly.

What Role Can Technology Play? 

What if you don’t have a budget large enough to finance hundreds of assistors or retail outlets, or what if your call center budget was just cut?

Web self-service and proactive engagement are some of the most evolving customer support channel trends. Some carriers understand this and have begun to provide the best customer experience -- consistently and within a small budget -- using an avatar or Intelligent Virtual Assistant (IVA).

With the IVA, consumers get their questions answered at the time they need it, just like when they are in front of a person. They are not taken out of the flow to another website, nor are they required to remember the content of a video they watched 20 minutes ago. They get the help on-demand, 24x7, and in their language. (Author's note: ConnectYourCare just signed on with a CodeBaby Spanish speaking avatar to bridge the gap for their audience.)

These avatars are a cost effective way to educate, guide, navigate, execute AND build a relationship with healthcare consumers. Studies show that consumers love engaging with virtual assistants. But, if you are still a doubter, consider reading what Forester Research has to say

I just touched on some of this in a recent eHealth radio interview. To hear more, take a listen: Healthcare Literacy, Understanding Obamacare.

About the Author

Ray Catudal

As Director of Healthcare Consulting, Ray is focused on CodeBaby’s healthcare specific customers and delivering on CodeBaby’s mission of customer centricity. With over 20 years of experience in medical devices, healthcare and technology, specifically: ehealth, health insurance, and software, Ray is a subject matter expert who contributes to industry articles, and speaks at trade shows and events.

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