Bailey summarized some of the actions being taken by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) with regard to health literacy, specifically those focusing on oral health literacy. He said that much has been accomplished across HHS in this area in just the past 2 years. The Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, addresses oral health literacy by incorporating health literacy into professional training, facilitating the movement of clients into Medicaid and CHIP programs, and establishing state-based insurance exchanges. Participating health plans and insurers are required to use clear, consistent, and comparable health information using a standardized template to describe plan coverage and benefits.
Bailey described how the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) provisions of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) call for adoption of electronic health records to provide health information that is meaningful and useful to consumers.
He then discussed the Plain Writing Act of 2010 that requires federal agencies to write documents clearly so that the public can understand and use them. This requirement does not just apply to health. It applies across the federal government to any information that the federal government is providing on federal benefits or services, or how to comply with federal regulations. Federal agencies are required by law to report on this requirement beginning in 2012. These reports will serve as the baseline for measuring future progress.
The HHS 2010 National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy involved more than 700 individuals and organizations. The seven goals of the plan focus on
Bailey noted that the Affordable Care Act, the Plain Language Act, the HITECH provisions, and the HHS National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy provide a unified way to address health literacy goals and strategies. Bailey felt that these accomplishments provide a roadmap for progress. He stated that it is remarkable that these initiatives have all occurred within the past 2 years.