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Health Literacy

Hello readers! My name is Sari Edelman. I’m the new Health Care Reform intern at the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health. I’m so excited to be working for such a strong-minded and passionate organization, and to share my experience and viewpoint on health care related issues.


During my first week here, I did A LOT of research on the Affordable Care Act. I read articles, and articles, and then some more articles, to help get a grasp on the basis of the ACA as a whole. However, I found out quickly that it is confusing, complicated, and encompasses so much. I must say, as a Public Health major, this really worried me because if I couldn’t understand the issue of health care reform, who could? So, I’ve decided to write my first blog on the pressing issue of health literacy- or the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions.


Health terminology is a language in itself. It requires people to understand it, speak it, read it, write it, and even comprehend its mathematics  (for medication dose purposes). Unfortunately, 9 out of 10 adults do not understand the health terminology used in everyday health care communications. Yet, regardless of health literacy skills, patients are expected to manage medications, communicate with health care providers, and receive appropriate care. Think about how scary this can be. If a patient reads the directions on a medication bottle incorrectly, he can suffer terrible side effects, overdose, or even die. Without the ability to understand basic health information, people cannot comprehend health messages correctly, receive appropriate preventative care, control their health care costs, or attain the best health outcomes.


I fear that health illiteracy is a major reason that discussions around the Affordable Care Act have become a political debate rather than one centered on affordable and accessible health care. The very nickname “Obamacare” is a way of branding ACA to associate it with a political party. In reality, the idea of a mandate for all Americans to be enrolled in a health care plan by law was originally a Republican idea. Yet, because Obama enacted the ACA, Republicans now claim it is “the worst part of the Democratic health care agenda.” It is upsetting that misinformation and political scheming can interfere so greatly with access to care. The ACA should be evaluated and debated based on people, not by politics. That is why health literacy is so important. All Americans should understand health care basics, including what care they can obtain and the benefits of affordable health care, regardless of political affiliation.  (Check out Jimmy Kimmel’s health literacy experiment – Affordable Care Act vs. Obamacare)


As our population becomes increasingly diverse, health disparities are intensifying. So at a time when only 12% of adults are proficient in health literacy, what can be done to raise such rates? To begin, simplifying written health materials can make basic health information easier to understand. Improving providers’ communication skills can also raise health literacy rates. By giving feedback and simply communicating with patients, providers can help patients understand and visualize health related information. Other techniques like self-care, increased education, acknowledging cultural differences, and identifying if information is appropriate for users, are all simple things that go a long way. Everybody wants to be informed. So, support health communication changes, and ask questions to providers to pave the way for a healthier future. 


To learn more about health literacy, visit:


National Institute of Health- Health Literacy


National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy


Washington Post- Many Americans Have Poor Health Literacy


Quick Guide to Health Literacy


Health Literacy


ACA- Politics


Health Literacy Webinar- June 19th @ 4 pm  ET



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