Click to view a video about the Center's work with Worcester County Public Schools to improve health literacy!

So let’s start with the basics: President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act back in March of 2010 and it will be fully implemented by 2015. What’s the Affordable Care Act all about, you ask? The goal of the Affordable Care Act, sometimes-called “Obamacare,” is to increase the number of Americans who have health insurance by expanding coverage to more people and providing cheaper plans.

There are three ways by which an individual can find himself or herself insured. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, about 50% of Americans will have health insurance through their employers. The government is now requiring companies with 50 or more employees to provide insurance for all full-time employees. If companies choose not to comply, they will be forced to pay a penalty. So if you’re a business student and get a full-time offer from a big, multinational firm like Ernst & Young and they don’t offer you insurance options, you will know something is wrong and you are not being given all that you’re due!

About one third of Americans will be insured through the government. This applies to government programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Medicare insures senior citizens but not much is changing with this program. Thankfully, we are all young so Medicare won’t be something that we need to consider for ourselves for a very long time! Medicaid, however, insures low income Americans who cannot afford to purchase their own insurance. The Medicaid program is expanding to cover more low-income adults, but not all states are required to adopt the growing program. If you live in a state that gets on board with the changes, the federal government will cover nearly all of the cost. But if you live in a state that does not choose to accept the changes, unfortunately you will only be left with the options that are in place today, most likely leaving you uninsured.

The last way that you can find yourself insured is by purchasing your own insurance through what is called the Health Insurance Marketplace. 10% of Americans will find themselves fitting into this category. You may stay on your parents’ plan until you turn 26 but what happens if you get a full-time job offer with a small company that is not legally required to provide insurance options for their employees? Then you will need to know what exactly the Marketplace is, and how and when you purchase plans! For all of this information and more, check in to my blog every Wednesday for the rest of the month!

-Erin Calhoun




As college students, we are currently living out our last few years of relative ignorance to the pressures and responsibilities of the real world; we have been living in campus dormitories where we don’t have to write checks for the electric bill or water bill, we have been eating at the on-campus diners where we don’t have to cook our own food or clean up after ourselves. So what happens when we graduate? Sure, we’ll have a degree that we have worked very hard for, and hopefully a full time job! But many graduates leave the comfort and familiarity of the American university system without some of the basic knowledge we need to know in order to lead healthy and productive lives. For example, what’s the deal with health insurance? Do you even need it? You’ve probably never seen a health insurance store in the mall, so where can you even buy it? In celebration of Health Literacy Month, I will be debunking the mysteries of health insurance in a way that all college students can understand! My first blog post will be released on October 1st so make sure to check it out! – Erin Calhoun

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On July 29th, Health Literacy Maryland’s Policy Engagement Task Force (PETF) hosted their first webinar on the ‘Maryland Legislation Process 101’. Click here to view a recording of the webinar. The webinar featured Cheri Wilson from the Hopkins Center for Health Disparities Solutions in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

This was a great opportunity to learn about the legislative process in order to address important health literacy issues. Cheri’s agenda included a description of the legislative process and a discussion of relevant legislation (bills that have passed into law and bills under consideration). PETF Co-Chair Chris Garcia explained a policy analysis organizing tool that the task force can use to prepare for the next legislative cycle in support of  House Bill 1404/Health Care Disparities, Cultural and Linguistic Competency, and Health Literacy – Continuing Education.

If you haven’t already, be sure to join the Policy Engagement Task Force (PETF) ListServ where you can stay abreast of the activities of the task force, communicate updates and generate discussion! To subscribe, please send an email to the PETF co-chairs:

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Click the image above to download the Health Insurance Literacy Brief [PDF]

In January at the Health Literacy Maryland Annual Meeting, Dr. Bonnie Braun shared information about the Smart Choice Health Insurance curriculum developed by the University of Maryland Extension.  This Health Insurance Literacy Initiative Brief [PDF] will provide some additional information.

LindaAldooryThe Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies of Science has commissioned the Horowitz Center for Health Literacy to write a paper on informed-consent regulations and health-literate communications. Dr. Linda Aldoory (left), director of the center and associate professor of behavioral and community health at the School of Public Health, and Katherine Barrett Ryan, the center’s coordinator, were granted the competitive award of $8,000, and will present the paper at a workshop on July 28, 2014.

The IOM Health Literacy Roundtable commissions papers that bring attention to particular topics in health literacy. Dr. Aldoory and Barrett Ryan’s work will include a thorough literature review on informed-consent regulations, interviews with 10 experts in the area, and a collection of Maryland best practices in alternative, health-literate forms of informed consent.

Screen Shot 2014-05-23 at 9.20.36 AMFor our inaugural seed grant program, the Center for Health Literacy has selected a proposal entitled “Health Literacy, Colorectal Cancer Screening Preference, and Shared Decision Making in African Americans.” Erin Tagai (pictured at left), a doctoral student in behavioral and community health, and Dr. Cheryl Holt, associate professor of behavioral and community health, are the recipients of the $12,600 award to fund research activities. Click here to read more about the Seed Grant program and the winning project proposal.

From Health Policy to Actuality-A Challenge for Engagement

Public health policy is too important to leave to professional policy makers. You are the public and you can play a role! But, I’ve learned that people may not know what roles they can play. In part 3 of my series, I will focus on the four roles we can play in the cycle of public health issues evolution and challenge you to take action.

If you haven’t already, please take a moment to review Parts 1 and 2:

Part 1 – Why don’t people get involved in public issues? 

Part 2 – How can having a framework help you understand public health issues? 

Let’s Talk Roles

There are four roles a colleague and I wrote about in a professional article and book[1]. They are the roles of:  citizen, educator, analyst and advocate.


The role of citizen is foundational to governance of, by, and for the people. Citizens are foundational to both formal and informal policy-making and changes in policy. Citizens are foundational whether policies are national, regional, state or local.

Engaged citizens take responsibility by being an educated citizen and one that voices ideas, concerns and solutions. Engaged citizens monitor democratic institutions and hold them accountable.

Examples of an engaged citizen include:

  • Attending meetings to demonstrate interest.
  • Distributing leaflets.
  • Writing an op-ed piece for the local newspaper.
  • Testifying at the school board or state legislature or other public decision-making bodies.

Engaged citizens have a voice and make that voice heard!


The role of educator is vital to a democratic society or to a local community.

Ask yourself: Can I fulfill the role of helping other people learn? Can I use information to build understanding and capacity so that people are empowered to shape and influence public policy? Am I in the business of education or in the education field? Do I have content expertise or process expertise?


  • Provide credible information critical to public decision-making.
  • Frame the issue in terms the public understand.
  • Facilitate public deliberation about the tradeoffs of possible policies.
  • Raise questions and guide citizens to finding answers.


The role of analyst is vital to the public decision-making process. An analyst can identify needed information and prepare the information so it makes sense and is useful to citizens and public policy makers.

Analysts can hold professional analytic positions or they can be citizen volunteers. If they know a lot about a topic, they can do the analysis on their own. Or they can work with researchers to convert data and research into information decision-makers can use.


  • Provide a logic to examine parts of an issue; the nature, function, and relationships to other issues; and potential impacts on public policy.


The role of advocate is to provide voice and face to public issues.


  • Examine the issues and available analyses.
  • Apply personal and professional knowledge and values
  • Argue for a specific strategy or legislation or for a general concept or principle.

Some people are comfortable in advocating for a specific piece of legislation or regulation. They often have passion behind the case they are willing to make in writing and/or orally.

Other people are more comfortable advocating for a principle or general concept. They might be advocating the use of principles such as economic and social well-being of individuals, families, groups, a community; the case for adequate food and nutrition to a population able to work and contribute to communities; or for quality of health care.

What role or roles will you take?

Find one of these roles that best fits your expertise and comfort levels. Sometimes you will play roles other than the one you with which you are most comfortable. And on occasion, you may play all four roles. Go you!

Remember: reading about roles won’t make a difference.

You must act.

You must find an issue about which you have ideas and/or understanding that could inform policy makers. You must determine what stage that issue is in the public health issues evolution. Then you must share what you think and know via one of these four roles at the right time for you to have an effect.

Yes, you can.

Assume a role or roles and take action. But the answer is really up to you. Want a jump start? The Health Literacy Maryland coalition has a Policy Engagement Working Group that welcomes you to join them as we advance a better state of health through health literacy for the people of Maryland.  Contact Katherine Barrett Ryan for more information on how to join!

Bonnie Braun, PhD. Chair, Health Literacy Maryland

Interested in more? Watch “From Health Policy to Actuality-A Challenge for Engagement | 2013 Consumer Issues Conference” to see how all the three parts of this blog series fit together.

[1] Braun, B., & Williams, S. (2004). Democratic engagement: A call for family professionals. In C.Anderson (Ed.), Family and community policies: Strategies for civic engagement (pp. 1- 18). Washington, D.C.: American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences.