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Health literacy takes center stage as pandemic continues

A survey on social determinants of health found that 48% of respondents indicated health literacy is one of the top five social issues that affect patient outcomes. Photo: ElenaBuzmakova_Borisova/Pixabay

Texas News Service

AUSTIN, Texas — The uninsured rate in Texas surged to 29% earlier this year – with nearly 1-in-3 Texans younger than 65 living without health insurance. That’s the highest rate in the nation.

Serena Bumpus, director of practice with the Texas Nurses Association, said research suggests many people lack information about health care coverage options – especially if they’ve lost a job and health insurance because of COVID-19. She said it’s important that Texans living without insurance do their homework ahead of open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act, which starts on Sunday.

“Only 12% of the adult population is considered to be proficient in understanding health-related issues and terminology in general,” Bumpus said.

She said a lack of literacy about health plans and personal issues often can result in surprise medical bills. And she noted even highly literate people may have difficulty understanding medical jargon, or a familiar word may not be understood in a medical context.

An estimated 659,000 adults in Texas lost health care coverage along with their jobs between February and May of this year as employers laid off workers due to the pandemic.

October is designated Health Literacy Month, and Dr. Donna Christensen, board member with Consumers for Quality Care and a former U.S. representative, said about 40% of people are not as “health literate” as they ought to be.

“And that can result in not only picking the wrong insurance but even in just reading a prescription, understanding the illnesses that you may be suffering from,” Christensen said.

She urges consumers to avoid short-term limited-duration insurance. Said while it may appear to be a less expensive option, consumers can incur increased out-of-pocket costs, and pre-existing conditions are probably not going to be covered.

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