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!