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Resources to Advance Health Literacy

September 24, 2013

The cost of low health literacy is alarming. The estimated impact to the U.S. economy is between $106 billion to $238 billion annually, which represents between 7 and 17% of all personal health care expenditures.1

Health literacy is much more than the ability to read and understand basic health information. It also requires listening, analytical and decision-making skills, and being able to apply those skills in health situations. Low health literacy can be attributed to health care providers using words patients don’t understand and consumers with low educational skills, cultural barriers to health care or limited English proficiency.

Three years ago UnitedHealth Group launched its Health Literacy Innovations Program, which has been instrumental in developing tools and resources to help make health care communications simpler, easier to use and more understandable.

In honor of Health Literacy Month, we share a few of our recent initiatives to highlight the ways we’re helping address this silent, chronic condition.

Just Plain ClearTM English-Spanish Glossary

Research shows that about 65% of Spanish-speaking adults in the United States have some limitation in understanding and using health communications.2

To close this gap, a team representing UnitedHealth Group’s major business segments worked with Spanish-language experts to carefully select and research more than 2,200 insurance, dental, medical and legal terms. They provided easy-to-understand definitions for these terms and created the Just Plan ClearTM English-Spanish glossary, which is available to the public at no additional cost at

Online Health Care Handbook for Asian-Language-Speaking Members

An estimated 33% of Asian-American immigrants have health literacy challenges.3 Another 27% have reported communication issues with their providers.4 To mitigate these difficulties, UnitedHealthcare recently released a new online health care handbook complete with words, terms and questions a member may want to consider asking their providers. It is available in Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese.

More About the Program

The Health Literacy Innovations program is also helping UnitedHealth Group businesses align with the health literacy standards outlined in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and in the rules and regulations established by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

Through the Health Literacy Innovations Program, UnitedHealth Group companies are represented at the Institute of Medicine Roundtable on Health Literacy, a health policy recommendation group, and at America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the national trade association representing the insurance industry. The program is also coordinating industry-leading research to develop strategies to make health communications more understandable and actionable.

If you have questions about this program, other related health literacy initiatives or the resources mentioned in this article, please contact your UnitedHealthcare representative.

1 Low Health Literacy: Implications for National Health Policy. Vernon, JA, et. al.,

2 America's Health Literacy: Why We Need Accessible Health Information. An Issue Brief From the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2008.

3 Schyve, P.  Language differences as a barrier to quality and safety in health care: The Joint Commission perspective. Journal of General Internal Medicine 22(S2), 360-361 and health care strategies. Accessed August 2013.

4 Doak CC, Doak LG, Root JH. The literacy problem. In: Teaching Patients With Low Literacy Skills. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co. 1996: 1-9. Accessed August 2013.