What do Health Insurance, Amazon Prime, and a Gym Membership Have in Common?

By Guest Blogger

This blog was written by Adam Fox, Director of Strategic Engagement at the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative.

We have millions of newly enrolled Americans under Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act, if you prefer) who haven’t had health insurance in years, if ever. If we are going to help consumers understand how to use their health insurance, we have to try new ways of explaining health insurance that better resonate with consumers and make the unique and challenging construct of health insurance more relatable.

I have been working with my amazing colleagues at the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative to develop tools, like CoveredU.org, to help consumers understand the basics of health insurance in new ways and contextualize terminology. Yet, definitions and examples sometimes fall short. Finding apt analogies, comparisons, or metaphors for health insurance terms is tough, but has been a useful tactic to help consumers grasp the basic ideas of co-pays, co-insurance, and deductibles. Here’s a few that we’ve been using in Colorado:

  1. Take your cell phone bill. You have to pay a monthly amount (i.e. your premiums) to have a working cell phone and get access to basic services like calling and texting (i.e. your preventive services). If you want to use data or have a more robust cell phone plan, you have to pay more in premiums per month, or be willing to pay extra (i.e. co-pays or co-insurance) on top of your premiums if you use services not covered by your monthly plan. Additionally, your cell phone has a designated network of coverage, where you can use cell services without incurring an additional (often very high) roaming charge, similar to having in-network and out-of-network providers.
  1. Millions of people shop on Amazon every year, and anyone with Internet or a smartphone has access to Amazon shopping. But, once you pay a yearly amount for Amazon Prime (a deductible, perhaps?), you receive additional discounts, free shipping, and more services during your Amazon shopping or streaming. You still have some out of pocket expenses when purchasing or renting products (co-insurance/co-pays), but you often get them at a discounted rate.
  1. Gym memberships and cover charges are also useful. You could use a gym membership to explain premiums, and classes that cost extra at the gym to explain copays. Or, what about using a bar or club cover charge as an example for a co-pay? You pay a small amount to get access to the “provider” of a service, but if you want food, drink, etc. (think lab tests or other services in a doctor’s office), you’ll pay extra.

None of these examples quite covers all of the complexity of health insurance, but that may actually be a good thing. Throwing everything but the kitchen sink about health insurance at a consumer can be overwhelming and intimidating, and our testing of CoveredU.org, shows keeping it simpler if you can is usually the way to go. Or, maybe I am a little crazy. After all, I’m the one that decided to use a kegstand ad to try to get young adults to sign up for health insurance back in 2013.

What are some other analogies you would use? I heard from many of you in my session Let’s Go Shopping: Helping Consumers Navigate Plan Selection at the State of Enrollment conference. If you couldn’t make it, check out the slides here. And I’d love to hear from you — tweet your ideas and give us a shoutout at @COHealthAccess.

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