The High Cost of Low Health Literacy by Carolyn Pare

Just 12 percent of adults have “proficient health literacy,” according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy. In other words, nearly 9 out of 10 adults — or over 91 million Americans — may lack the skills needed to manage their health and prevent disease.

Low health literacy is a major source of inefficiency in the U.S. health care system. Estimates of the cost of low health literacy to the U.S. economy range from $106 to $236 billion annually. That’s enough to insure about 47 million uninsured Americans.


School of Public Health & Health Services
The George Washington University

About 14 percent of adults (30 million people) have “Below Basic” health literacy. These adults are more likely to report their health as poor (42 percent) than adults with “Proficient” health literacy. Low literacy has been linked to poor health outcomes such as higher rates of hospitalization and less frequent use of preventive services. Both of these outcomes are associated with significantly higher health care costs.

Members may not even be aware that through its communication toolkits and purchaser guides, the Action Group provides customizable communications to help inform health and benefit decision-making for employers and employees.

There are also some great resources available through the Center for Health Care Strategies, such as Improving Print Communication to Promote Health Literacy.

The newest addition to The Action Group’s cache of resources is a member-exclusive Maternity and Infertility Purchaser’s Guide that our members helped imagine, design, and develop. Results and recommendations will be rolled out during our February 4 member meeting, and I hope you will join us to learn more about this important topic and other resources that are available for you to use in your work and with your employees.