access to affordable health care coverage to all Americans through a competitive marketplace that fosters choice, quality, and innovation.

We appreciate this opportunity to appear before the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Health Literacy Roundtable today. America’s health insurers are committed to improving the health of the individuals and populations they serve and to making health benefits more affordable. My remarks today focus on the following areas:

•  The importance of health literacy;

•  How health plans are engaged in addressing health literacy; and

•  Common approaches that can serve as models to assist other entities in improving health literacy.


The National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy released in May 2010 highlights the importance of engaging all stakeholders linked in a multi-sector effort to improve health literacy. The report highlights strategies that particular organizations or professions can take to further the key goals identified to improve health literacy.1 Promoting change in the health care system through improved health information and communication, informed decision making, and developing and disseminating health information that is accurate, accessible, and actionable can have a demonstrable impact on the health and quality of life of millions of Americans.

Research shows clearly that health and benefits information plays an important role in the health status of individuals, and that those with poor health literacy who cannot easily access, understand, and act upon such information are more likely to experience poor health, less likely to be engaged in their care, have a harder time managing their chronic diseases, and more likely to incur significantly higher than necessary health care costs as a result.

A study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association by authors from the Kaiser Permanente organization found that patients with congestive heart failure and low health literacy are three times as likely to die in a given year as patients with better health literacy skills.2 Several other studies and reports, including the recent Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) National Action Plan to Improve


1 Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (May 2010). National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

2 Peterson, P. N., S. M. Shetterly, C. L. Clarke, D. B. Bekelman, P. S. Chan, L. A. Allen, D. D. Matlock, D. J. Magid, and F. A. Masoudi. 2011. Health Literacy and Outcomes Among Patients With Heart Failure. JAMA 305(16):1695-1701. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.512

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