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Viewpoint: For Delawareans, health literacy is more important than ever

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The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has impacted millions across the country, and Delaware has not been spared. Many consumers across the state are struggling to afford health care, compounded by the fact that it is difficult to determine the cost of care ahead of time due to a lack of pricing transparency by many Delaware hospitals.

Rep. Donna Christensen

Even before the pandemic, research showed that more than half of Americans with employer-sponsored health insurance had delayed or postponed recommended treatment for themselves or a family member due to cost. Now, as insurers continue to make billions while rolling back services like COVID-19 coverage, it has never been more crucial for Delawareans to take the time and examine what different health plans do and do not cover. Health insurance practices are changing, and Delawareans need to be prepared.

With Open Enrollment beginning Nov. 1 for many Delawareans, it is vital that consumers be aware of the potential pitfalls that exist, including changes to COVID-19 coverage, surprise medical bills and junk health plans that fail to cover pre-existing conditions. October marked Health Literacy Month, and Consumers for Quality Care (CQC) is helping Americans to understand their options for selecting health insurance coverage and making sure they know the details of the health care plans they are selecting.

 Already, insurance companies are changing their policies when it comes to COVID-19. Nearly three-quarters of the largest health plans across the country are ending their COVID-19 cost-sharing waivers, a move that will only harm patients. Health care costs are continuing to rise for Delawareans, and CQC polling from ALG Research even found that 76% of Delawareans agree that the amount they pay for health care seems to be going up every year.  

Telehealth has become a lifeline for many Americans during COVID-19, including those in Delaware. State lawmakers have even moved to permanently expand access to telemedicine for patients across the state. Unfortunately, some insurers are rolling back coverage for this essential tool, which has proven to have profound benefits even beyond the pandemic, particularly in rural and underserved communities who often lack easy access to health care services.

Surprise medical bills continue to be a major problem for Delawareans. While legislation passed by the U.S. Congress last year will protect many Americans from surprise billing starting next year, details of the law are still being developed. With many uninformed or in the dark about this ongoing legislative battle, consumers should always check if a provider is in-network and closely examine all medical bills before paying them.

With an estimated one-third of COVID-19 survivors identifying as having lasting effects from the virus, consumers in Delaware must be wary of junk health plans like short-term limited-duration insurance plans (STLDIs) that often exclude coverage of pre-existing conditions. Delawareans looking to save on health care costs should avoid STLDIs, which entice consumers with lower premiums but often leave them without adequate coverage when they need it most.

To help struggling Delawareans afford care, lawmakers, state insurance commissioners, insurers, and hospitals need to address rising health care costs and ensure all Americans can access the quality, affordable care they need and deserve. In the meantime, CQC urges Delawareans to carefully examine their health insurance options during 2021’s Open Enrollment so they can make the best possible decision for themselves and their families.

Donna M. Christensen served nine terms in the U.S. House of Representatives representing the U.S. Virgin Islands and was the first female physician elected to serve as a House member. She now serves on the board of directors of Consumers for Quality Care.

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