Do You Speak Affordable Care Act?

Sep 4, 2013, 2:27 PM

A recent survey by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) found that more than half of about 1,000 American adults polled could not correctly define common health insurance financial terms such as premium, deductible or copay. That’s concerning considering that opening day to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act is October 1. “Half of Americans would fail health insurance 101,” said Ernie Almonte, CPA, chair of the Institute’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission. “That’s critical insight as consumers prepare to make important decisions with implications for both their physical and fiscal well-being,” says Almonte. “Americans need to take time in the coming weeks to familiarize themselves with key terms and assess their needs so they make the best decisions for their health and financial situations.”

Knowing what the terms mean can help people make informed choices when they sign up for health insurance. For example, a copay is the out of pocket cost to a patient for a health service. Choosing a plan with lower co-pays can help individuals save money, according to the Institute.

The survey found that people with high school diplomas or less education were significantly more likely than those with a college education to be unable to define financial health terms. The survey also found that 41 percent of  responders said they were not at all knowledgeable about the Affordable Care Act; just under half of responders said they thought they were somewhat knowledgeable.

Given these survey results, doctors and other health professionals including health department staff may want to share a resource on health literacy published by the Institute of Medicine recently, called The New Health Care Law and You. The sixteen-page booklet was written by Ruth Parker, MD, a physician and health literacy expert at Emory University, and grew out of a discussion paper on health literacy and health insurance published by the Institute of Medicine. Included in the booklet is a user’s guide to a health insurance card, a valuable tool since millions of Americans who will be signing up for health insurance next month have never had one in their wallets. And since each state has slight differences in its implementation of the new health law, the booklet offers websites and phone numbers to help steer consumers to specific information they need to sign up for health insurance that takes effect January 1, 2014.  

>>Bonus Resource: More ACA resources are available at the American Public Health Association’s health reform website. Click through to see the wealth of information including archived webinars on ACA topics and an upcoming webinar on September 17 about the connection between health delivery reforms and public health.

Our favorite resource is a chart (page two in this PDF) on the key consumer and public health tenets of the bill. The chart does a great job crystallizing provisions of the health law you may not have understood or realized until now. Example: the Affordable Care Act includes funding for public health campaigns on such topics as oral health and tobacco cessation.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.