For example, in August 2012 most of the women's health provisions took effect. New private health plans are now required to cover a number of preventive health services. A premise of this provision is that women will now be able to make many preventive health decisions — not the government or the insurance companies. That premise is an opportunity for extension. We can educate women about the provision, what's covered and when they can begin to take advantage of the provision.
Health insurance literacy
Another ACA provision draws a great deal of attention — that of health insurance. Research shows that health insurance plans are complicated and difficult to understand and that the process of choosing is overwhelming. This applies both to those who have health insurance and those who will be purchasing insurance.
In November 2011, Consumers Union, the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and the University of Maryland held a Call-to-Action Roundtable that included three representatives from extension. The group produced the logic for, and a working definition of, the concept of health insurance literacy: Health insurance literacy measures the degree to which individuals have the knowledge, ability, and confidence to find and evaluate information about health plans, select the best plan for their own (or their family's) financial and health circumstances, and use the plan once enrolled.
Currently, AIR is doing the formative research to develop and test a measure of health insurance literacy. Such a measure can be used by extension as a pre- and post-test for impact assessment of health insurance education and by researchers to monitor change over time which could affect public policy.
Through timely education, extension can help to increase the knowledge, ability and confidence of health insurance consumers — including that of our own faculty and staff! With research colleagues, we can measure the impact of our programming using the standardized assessment of health insurance literacy and use for compiling impact across our system.
Bonnie Braun is a professor and extension family policy specialist with the University of Maryland. For more information, contact her at email@example.com.