It’s not controversial to say that health care’s a hot topic right now, though a lot of things revolving around the topic are.
But lost in the world of health reform debate and political friction, there’s something that’s important to bring up about health care: No one understands it.
Let’s talk about some facts.
Three out of four seniors on Medicare say the government health program is difficult to understand. Most of the respondents to a survey from Extend Health said the task of understanding Medicare when they turned 65 and became eligible for coverage was “somewhat difficult,” “very difficult,” “impossible without help,” or that they “still don’t understand original Medicare” as well as they would like.
And love it or hate it, the fact is most people still don’t understand health reform. This is despite the fact that it’s been two-and-a-half years since its passage; we are dozens of provisions into the law; and it’s been through—and survived—a largely publicized Supreme Court case. We know that the Patient Protection and Affordable Act has completely divided Americans—but perhaps more important to note—it’s completely befuddled them.
What consumers do know about health care is this: It’s expensive. It’s way too costly for them to keep receiving it as is. A commenter on an article I wrote earlier this week about how Americans feel about medical costs (the story says that health care costs are keeping patients away from the doctor with about one in three saying it has made them put off medical treatment and skip or postpone a regular doctor’s visit), had one thing to say about it: “this is news?”
And yeah—it is. Maybe it’s not “new news” to a benefits broker, but it highlights one of our country’s biggest problems.
As a broker, I know you have your own frustrations over the political scene. You know more about the business than most politicians. But the average Joe is frustrated because they aren’t getting the answers they need—they aren’t seeing huge cost relief. They aren’t getting basic facts or education. And they aren’t getting simple resolutions. As far as they’re concerned, they’re just getting rhetoric. But still to many, at least PPACA is starting a conversation.
We can talk all you want about the first presidential debate—where a majority of it was focused on the candidates’ health care platforms. Despite what you think about it, or despite what Americans say about their stances, I bet you a lot of the assertions don’t even matter. Regardless, I bet you less than 15 percent of Americans can tell you the difference between a co-pay and a premium.
So my big question is: Does this all come down to a communications problem?
Wouldn’t more awareness and more education make us better, or smarter health care consumers? And even more engaged Americans?
Putting politics aside, there’s something that can be done—and it comes down to the broker.
There are things for brokers to do: Continue to work to provide good coverage to your clients; talk about what they can do to save money (consumers' No. 1 health care concern); talk supplemental insurance and how it can protect your clients and their finances; the list goes on. But most importantly, talk to them simply about health care—because as much as you know about it, they don’t know the half of it.
The broker function needs to be more than a sales pitch. Health reform—which, yes, is happening—is making your role increasingly important; it’s not dooming you. It’s become more important than ever that you take on a consultative approach. It seems that’s what us regular consumers might need most of all.
And before you say anything, I'll argue that yeah, this is news.