Let's Start A Campaign To Get Rid Of Confusing Health Insurance Jargon


Last week Sylvia Burwell, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services Secretary, gave a speech at the American Health Insurance Plan’s (AHIP) health policy conference. The speech was scheduled for half an hour. Secretary Burwell shared 2015 enrollment statistics and discussed future goals of her Department.

The primary focus of the Secretary’s speech was to outline her Department’s goals following the second Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) open enrollment. One of the goals she articulated is to work with the health insurance industry and other partners to increase Americans’ understanding of health insurance and health care.
And I agree with Secretary Burwell that the focus needs to be on education—it should have been from the start. But I understand that getting people enrolled in a health plan and fixing the enrollment system had to come first.

I also understand why HHS is asking for help with this goal. Their “Coverage to Care” initiative is not likely to help too many people understand their health benefits, especially newbies. For example, the one to two minute, 11-part video series on topics such as:
  • understanding health plan terms,
  • finding a provider, and
  • making an appointment, etc.,
uses the same jargon and unintuitive concepts that already existed.

However, turning to the health insurance industry for help with this goal, may be a loser also. Health insurers have had decades to play a major role in making health insurance more understandable. Instead its focus has, and continues to be on finding ways to pay for less and less health care. Whether it’s designing health plans that have more cost sharing, or helping craft national health care policy to make sure that get much more than they give, these folks don’t see a need to help the insured. In fact, the industry is known for its consistently subpar customer ratings.

But if HHS is serious about helping Americans better understand and use their newly gained health insurance, there is one thing they can do with the help of health insurance companies. That one thing is to remove health insurance jargon from all plan information. The last thing this country needs is another video, slideshow or infographic to explain the terms coinsurance, copay and deductible. Why can’t insurance plans just say that this is the amount you owe for health care services in instead of using three separate terms? The person paying this amount does not care if it is a percentage or flat dollar amount (of some larger amount).

Words and phrases like—pay this, payment due, amount due, your share of the cost and bill are terms people see all the time. There is no need to learn terms that mean the same thing, yet have no connection to everyday life.

So instead of an initiative to try and teach people stupid and confusing terminology, I propose an initiative to stop using insurance jargon altogether. This initiative would go a long way in helping newbies and veteran health insurance holders understand their coverage. And, this initiative is something that the health insurance industry can do for HHS and the rest of us. And it is something that we should demand they do now. Who’s with me…?
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