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Health Literacy

Imagine this: you get a letter in your mailbox. You can see that the letter is from your doctor, but the letter is written in a language you don’t know. What do you do? How do you get help? Do you ask a friend or family member to help you read the letter? Or do you throw it in the trash and forget about it?

The U.S. health care system is complex.[i] It can be hard for all of us to figure out how to get the care we need.

  • What kind of health care do we need?
  • Where do we go to get care?
  • And once we do get health care, how do we take the right steps to stay healthy?

Knowing the answers to these questions is called health literacy.

Since October is Health Literacy Month,[ii] it is a perfect time to highlight the importance of health literacy and steps Colorado Access takes to support our members in learning more about how to get the care they need.

What is Health Literacy?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines health literacy as the ability to “obtain, communicate, process, and understand basic health information and services.” In plain language, “health literacy” is knowing how to get the health care we need.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) also notes that both people and organizations can be health literate:

  • Personal health literacy: The degree to which individuals can find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others. In plain language, being “health literate” means someone knows how to get the health care they need.
  • Organizational health literacy: The degree to which organizations equitably enable individuals to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others. In plain language, being a “health literate” organization means that the people they serve can understand and get the health care they need.

Why is Health Literacy Important?

According to the Center for Health Care Strategies, almost 36% of adults in the U.S. have low health literacy.[iii] That percentage is even higher among people who use Medicaid.

When getting health care is hard or confusing, people may choose to skip doctor appointments, which can mean they do not get the right care at the right time, they do not have the medicine they need, or they use the emergency room more than they need to. This can make people sicker and can cost more money.

Making health care easier to understand helps people get the care they need and helps them stay healthy. And that’s good for everyone!

What is Colorado Access doing to make health care easier to understand?

Colorado Access wants health care to be easy for our members to understand. Here are just a few examples of how we help our members get health care:

  • Language assistance services, including written/oral interpretation and auxiliary aids/services, are available free of charge. Call 800-511-5010 (TTY: 888-803-4494).
  • When new members join Colorado Access, they get a user-friendly “new member packet” that explains the health care that members can get with Medicaid.
  • All member materials are written in a way that is easy to read and understand.
  • Colorado Access employees have access to training on health literacy.



Health Literacy: Accurate, Accessible and Actionable Health Information for All | Health Literacy | CDC

Health Literacy for Public Health Professionals (Web Based) – WB4499 – CDC TRAIN – an affiliate of the TRAIN Learning Network powered by the Public Health Foundation

Promoting health literacy as powerful tool to address public health challenges (


[i] Is our healthcare system broken? – Harvard Health

[ii] October Is Health Literacy Month! – News & Events |

[iii] Health Literacy Fact Sheets – Center for Health Care Strategies (