A friend on Facebook recently posted, “I just got an email from Blue Cross urging me to ‘use my benefits’ because the end of the year is coming. Honestly have no idea what to make of that.” Especially since after two emergency room visits, “I have super definitely ‘used my benefits’ this year.”
Writing for health insurance customers is tough. The author of that email probably thought they were being clear. But people don’t understand how health insurance works. It uses big words like coinsurance and out-of-pocket maximum. Worse, common words and phrases are used two different ways, leading to double entendres and double the confusion.
In Putting the human into health literacy, Alissa Gavrilescu notes that “Bridging the gap between information and engagement is a critical piece of health literacy communication.” There’s useful information in that Blue Cross email but it’s lost in translation. The gap is how it’s being said. The bridge is putting it in terms the customer will understand. Explain why it’s important and you get engagement.
Here’s what “use your benefits before the end of the year” really means.
Did you meet your plan’s deductible or out-of-pocket maximum? If so, you may want to think about scheduling a doctor visit, test or procedure before the end of the year. Here’s why:
- Your plan helps pay for more or all of the cost of approved services, saving you money
- Deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums start over each year; you’ll pay more until you meet them again
How to avoid writing tales (and emails) from the cryptic
Gavrilescu gives some good tips on writing for health care communications in her blog, like “Write like you’d talk to someone.” If you wouldn’t say “I think I’ll use my benefits today,” your audience probably won’t either. But how do you know you’re talking like your audience and using terms they’ll understand? Here are some strategies I’ve used.
- Search engine optimization (also called SEO) is your friend. Find out what words and phrases people use to search for a topic, then use them.
- Look at user feedback on your digital platforms from sources like Opinion Lab. That’s how we found out people were confused by the term “covered.” When the company used the word covered, it meant that a service was included in a plan’s benefits. Customers thought covered meant their plan would pay 100 percent of the cost for it.
- Do user testing. If you can’t do it for everything, or your sources are limited, at least get a peer review or have a few people read it.
- Writing for health insurance is a balancing act. You don’t always have the space to define everything every time, like deductible and out-of-pocket maximum. But if the message is clear—use it or lose it—and you provide resources for next steps (like where they can see their plan information to learn more) you’ve been the bridge instead of the gap.