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Gauging your employees’ health care literacy

Health care is a complex web of jargon that can even make the most seasoned human resources professionals scratch their heads. With seemingly constant changes and shifting regulation deadlines, it’s no surprise that employees may seem disengaged from their health care. Are you doing your part to keep your employees informed about their benefits?

Employee education is the first step to making them active health care participants. Health care literacy helps employees stay informed of the industry’s many facets. Health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions. 

Low health care literacy costs Americans more than $100 billion each year! Contributing factors include overpaying on prescriptions and using the emergency room for non-emergencies. People with a stronger knowledge of the health care industry are better equipped at making medical choices and taking control of how much they spend on care. In general, being an educated health care consumer means taking the time to learn about insurance and medical care options, choosing the most suitable plans and treatments and reviewing medical bills to ensure the charges are correct.

Employers can help control health care costs for their whole organization by educating their employees more about health literacy. To gauge your employees’ health literacy, you can survey them with questions such as the following:

  1. Are you currently comfortable with your understanding of your health benefits?
  2. Are you confident about taking a more active role in your health care purchasing decisions?
  3. Do you know how copayments work?
  4. Do you know how deductibles work?
  5. Do you know what coinsurance is?
  6. Do you have an understanding of why you are billed for some health care services and items and not others?
  7. Would you be comfortable using a health savings account?
  8. Does your culture support workplace flexibility?
  9. Do you find open enrollment to be a stress-free process?
  10. Are you currently satisfied with the cost of health care benefits from your employer?

Health literacy can help employees become wiser health care consumers. The knowledge will guide them in making better health care decisions, such as choosing the right physician, receiving preventive care, reading and fully comprehending medical bills, and having open conversations with their doctors. Educating employees leads to a healthier workforce and, eventually, will lower total costs for all health plan participants within the organization.