We Can't Wait For Americans To Understand Health Insurance To Fix It

A quick look at the headlines of the latest polls on the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) and you may conclude that Americans don't know what kind of health care system they want.

Most Americans like the fact that people with preexisting medical conditions have a legal right to purchase health insurance. Unlike the bad old days when insurers could deny them coverage... They also like that parents can keep their adult children on their health plans up to age 26. And they are not opposed to the poor receiving government subsidies to pay for health insurance.

Yet a simple majority of Americans still oppose Obamacare. And, they don't like the mandate to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty, despite the fact that this feature provides for the things they like about the law.

As policymakers, pollsters and the media try to understand and explain these clearly disengaged poll responses, employee benefit professionals in the trenches are happy someone finally feels their pain. For decades employers and their human resource departments have tried to provide workers with a comprehensive understanding of health insurance and the health care system. For decades they have failed to accomplish this. And it’s partially their fault, but mostly the average American citizen’s fault. Here’s why.

Employers Failed To Educate Workers About Health Insurance

Employers have to admit that they never shared the behind the scenes process of obtaining health insurance with workers. Plans just magically appeared and all workers had to do was choose one. But not before sifting through a multitude of jargon-filled, legalese mumble jumble about tax advantages and life status events. It wasn’t until the cost of health insurance started getting scary for employers did they start sharing more information about their health insurance plan design and purchasing decisions. However, by then it was too late. After years of receiving confusing insurance information, employees tuned out, keeping the same plan year after year.

So, just when workers decided ignoring health insurance information was a good idea, things got more complicated. The most cognitively demanding health insurance products like high deductible health plans and health savings accounts are increasingly becoming the norm. And purchasing health insurance as an individual on a public or private exchange assumes a basic understanding of health insurance. For the most part, that assumption is wrong.

Workers Failed To Take Health Insurance Education Seriously

Americans struggle with understanding the interrelated aspects of health insurance is mostly due to not taking the time to learn even the basics. Yes, the health insurance industry is unnecessarily complex and redundant, but that is only because we allow it to be that way. Yes, health insurance is a unique commodity, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have the same or similar expectations for understanding what we get for our money. And, yes, health insurance is boring, but it is also more important than a lot of other not-so-fun things we spend our time learning about.

So What…

The country won’t collapse because people don’t understand health insurance or provide conflicting responses to poll questions. In fact, it is more than likely that Americans will never take the time to learn about health insurance or demand comprehensible information. Which is why the country needed a bold, unilateral policy like Obamacare. It is also why we need to look beyond Obamacare—to a simpler, singular health insurance system.
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