Health insurers, under fire, take 'very positive' step on literacy

If nothing else, the health care reform debate has produced a reliable punching bag: the insurance companies.

Lawmakers, consumer groups, and journalists (me included) have inflicted a flurry of blows upon insurers' collective chin -- for their huge rate increases, for dropping people from coverage and for the endless family nightmares dealing with pre-existing conditions.

It's only fair, though, to acknowledge when the industry does the right thing -- in this case, helping to tackle the nation's significant problem with health literacy.

An estimated one in three Americans has trouble reading, understanding, and acting on medical information and instructions. People with health literacy problems have difficulty filling out medical forms, managing a chronic disease and understanding how to take medication correctly.

This lack of understanding translates into big money. One estimate puts the avoidable costs from literacy problems at more than $100 billion a year.