Illustration of a family checking off a list for their healthcare

As healthcare communicators, most of us recognize the need for simpler terms and shorter sentences to support health literacy and empower our audiences to make healthcare decisions.

However, we don’t always use these techniques when it comes to health insurance literacy. A survey from Forbes Advisor found three-quarters of respondents couldn’t identify basic health insurance terms—including:

  • Deductible
  • Co-pay
  • Coinsurance
  • Out-of-pocket maximum

Many of us only encounter these terms once a year when we’re making insurance selections, so it makes sense why readers might not be familiar with them. But, making informed healthcare decisions is critical, and we must help readers understand these terms in practice.

Here are some tips on improving health insurance literacy for your audience:

Provide the right information for your audience

While sharing accurate information is a given, providing the right information at the right time for your audience is a little more nuanced. As with any other writing, it’s important to know your audience. For example:

  • Are they older consumers who need information on Medicare coverage?
  • Are they young families shopping for insurance for their first child?
  • Are they new grads weighing benefits at their first job?

It’s hard to write helpful insurance information that makes sense to all audiences at the same time. Understanding who your audience is means bringing a personalized approach that meets them where they are.

Explain terms that improve insurance literacy

Remember those hard-to-understand terms? Define them—and more—for your audience. Step away from the jargon and use terms you would use in a conversation with a friend or family member. Once again, consider your audience and the words that are most relevant to them.

Look at other terms with a critical eye, including:

  • Premium
  • Exclusions
  • Health savings account
  • Enrollment period

While some terms might feel obvious, it’s best to play it safe and define them or link to additional resources where readers can learn more.

Help your audience understand insurance benefits

Once your readers understand the basic vocabulary, put it in the context of their actual benefits. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services require health insurance providers to include a glossary of terms as well as a Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC) which is short and easy to understand.

Be concrete with your content

Provide examples that help illustrate insurance terms. For example, in the case of the young family shopping for insurance, provide specific examples of what might change when it comes to their family’s insurance, including healthcare costs for mom, delivery costs and co-pays for frequent wellness visits to the pediatrician when baby is born.

You can also be concrete by providing timelines. With open enrollment in November, consider how to build work back schedules into the content so readers know what action they should be taking and when.

Empower your readers with tools to choose the right insurance plan

According to the PolicyGenius and Radius Global Research survey, Americans aren’t so confident in their ability to choose a healthcare plan. And while most consumers are happy with their plan, about half intend to shop around. Give them the tools they need to do so effectively, including price comparisons and (again) concrete scenarios for using insurance.

Support insurance literacy when readers aren’t buying insurance

Not all insurance content has to be about purchasing insurance. Consider weaving insurance terms into other content so readers are encountering them more regularly. For example, think of how insurance terms might play a role for consumers when:

  • Selecting specialists (or a new primary care provider)
  • Paying medical bills
  • Changing jobs and getting new benefits

Answer questions to support health insurance literacy

If you’re wondering what type of health insurance content readers want to know about, ask them! Use online surveys through customer newsletters to get feedback and consult with your customer support teams to hear what questions folks are asking. This information is fodder for future topics that are of interest to your audience.

Looking for help communicating with your audience?

WriterGirl is here for you! Our team of healthcare content experts can work with you to craft custom content and campaigns that fit your organization’s voice and marketing needs. If you want to learn more, we’d love to talk.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in March 2018. It was updated on November 9, 2022.