Too much choice? Shopping for health coverage in America

A recent New York Times article detailed some of the challenges facing US health consumers as the annual open enrollment season for health insurance coverage opens again. While the Affordable Care Act has allowed millions of Americans who previously couldn’t afford to do so purchase insurance plans, the process is far from simple.

I’m not one to blog about ‘market volatility,’ but it occurred to me that health communication is not only affected by this dynamic purchasing environment but could also play a role in patient outcomes as consumers evaluate insurance plans.

Each year, US health consumers comparison shop for insurance coverage plans based on factors such as services provided, treatments included, diagnostic tests covered, which health care professionals are accessible and, of course, cost. So far, these factors have seemed to change each year with some insurers dramatically raising or lowering costs or removing particular services from their plans. Consumers are responding by evaluating their options each year and often switching plans.

One potential result of changing insurance plans is a change in health care provider. Patients who change doctors need to know how to discuss their health concerns quickly and thoroughly with new health professionals. And doctors need to know how to elicit the information they need from new patients. Health dialogue will need to adapt to suit this changing environment.

Savvy health consumers will gain confidence in choosing insurance plans and providers because they will carry with them the most knowledge about how to manage their health. Patients who want the best health outcomes will need information and empowerment to look after themselves. This is not to imply that patients know more than health care professionals about avoiding disease and managing conditions. But it seems that increased health communication and patient education will make annual purchasing decisions easier and more effective.

Overall, I believe that increased choice for US health consumers is having a positive effect with more people accessing coverage and care than before. In the future, perhaps insurance companies will adapt too and stabilize coverage options and prices to limit the annual switching during open enrollment season. Until then, I’m sending best wishes for effective shopping and health communication to my friends in America!

affordable care act

Recipe #5: Salmon, curly kale and sweet potato mash

This recipe was part of a newspaper supplement featuring healthy dishes. It appealed because I’m always trying to get my kids to enjoy fish rather than eat it under duress. One of them refuses salmon so I had to substitute with one piece of cod.

Ingredients were easy to find and I was pleased to use sweet potato for mash for some lovely autumn color. Similar to Recipe #4 with baked eggs, the tomato ratatouille could be made in advance and used over other dishes as well. The fish cooked quickly so the veg could be steamed while that was in the oven. Our kale didn’t look nearly as soft as the recipe photo so I’ll continue searching for a better way to prepare that super food.

Overall, this full-meal recipe was clearly written and simple to put together. The tomato ratatouille components combined well and helped my children enjoy eating fish. I added carrot and swede for even more color on the plate, but I’ll probably substitute the kale next time with a different green veg. Hungry Games verdict: this recipe can stay in my kitchen!

Salmon curly kale and sweet potato mash

salmon curly kale and sweet potato mash COOKED

Healthy communication

Informing and empowering customers to make the best purchase decisions is a worthy goal for marketing communicators. I agree with a recent essay from Captive Health that this is essential for health care communication as well. Educating patients about how to avoid disease and manage ongoing conditions is not only the right thing to do, it also saves money.  In fact, the author argues that providing information should be considered part of medical therapy and therefore standard practice.

In most aspects of life, informed decisions result in better outcomes. We know that if a customer chooses to buy a particular product or service based on inaccurate or incomplete information, she will regret it later. So while marketing communicators want to share positive messages about their clients or companies, it’s important to recognize that audiences are savvy and want the full picture. We’re all consumers of health care services so we want to know what our medical options are and the pros and cons of each.

According to Captive Health, more education for both health care providers and patients is needed to help them engage in fruitful discussions about medical management options together. The more we talk to our health care professionals about the risks and benefits of various interventions, the more informed we’ll be to make healthy decisions. It’s not easy to prioritize honest dialogue throughout the health decision making process when appointment times are tight and budgets even tighter. But the improvements in health outcomes and financial savings that arise from empowered patients demonstrate why better health communication is a worthy goal.

I’ve written in a previous blog post that effective communication helps customers clearly understand what they’re buying into so they are happy to take action and even recommend the same to others. What might happen if you give your customers all the information they need to make the right decisions for themselves? Educating and empowering your audience to do what’s best for them may be the right thing to do and may earn you more loyal business in the long run.

Captive Health report

Recipe #4: Baked eggs with chorizo and tomato ragout

Oooh, we love baked eggs in our house. And the idea of adding chorizo made my youngest child actually rub his hands together in anticipation.

I appreciate a recipe that suggests steps that can be done in advance. So I did indeed make the tomato ragout earlier in the day and that made dinner preparation quite quick. The ragout itself is a filling, savoury topping so next time, I might double this and save some for another dish. I had run out of saffron sadly, so had to leave this out. I’m sure it would have added depth to the flavour, but the strong chorizo was very tasty anyway.

Individual ovenproof dishes worked well for combining the portions of ragout and eggs. Baking time was a bit long for my oven making the yolks less runny than I would have liked, so I’ll adapt that next time. I had sour cream in the fridge so I used that instead of Greek yogurt as it achieved the same contrast to the rich chorizo.

I didn’t snap a photo of our baked eggs because they disappeared so quickly! In fact, even though the recipe states that it serves four, I’ll need to make more in the future as the children requested seconds. This recipe certainly gets to stay in my kitchen as part of The Hungry Games. Give it a try!

Baked eggs and chorizo with tomato ragout

Recipe #3: Roasted red pepper, ginger and prawn rice

After quite a long summer hiatus, The Hungry Games are back! I’ve held out and not purchased any new cookbooks as I’m trying to get through my pile of clipped recipes first. But Christmas is coming and I know I’ll want to put some cookbooks on my list for Santa … So I’ve been using my clipped recipes a lot in an effort to clear out some of the mess. Now it’s time to share the verdicts on whether these recipes will stay in my kitchen or be sent to the recycle bin.

Starting with Roasted red pepper, ginger and prawn rice –

This recipe looked colourful and I’m always eager to try meat-free meals as healthy alternatives. The idea of cooking everything in one dish also appealed to me to shorten cleaning time after dinner.

Ingredients for this dish were straightforward and easily found in the grocery store. I didn’t, however, read the rice item closely enough. The recipe actually calls for pre-cooked rice and quinoa but I don’t usually use this, so I had to quickly steam some rice and boil some quinoa before adding to the dish. Other than that, I enjoyed roasting the vegetables and did some of this in advance. After that, combining and cooking the rest of the dish took very little time. I kept the dressing on the side to suit my little one’s palate.

The prawns became a bit dry but the combination of roasted vegetables, onions, coriander and chilli made the dish robust and flavoursome. Hungry Games verdict: this recipe can stay!

roasted red pepper ginger and prawns

roasted red pepper ginger and prawns COOKED