University of Maryland Extension

UMD Empowers Americans to Make Smart Choice about Health Insurance

Sweeping health care reform legislation means starting October 1, hundreds of millions of Americans – both those currently insured and uninsured – will have more options than ever before when it comes to health insurance. Yet research shows the vast majority of people in this country are uncomfortable, overwhelmed and intimidated when it comes to making decisions about health insurance coverage.

That’s why a team of experts from University of Maryland Extension is leading a national charge to empower consumers with Smart Choice – a comprehensive, research-based, unbiased curriculum designed to equip people with the tools they need to make the best decisions possible when choosing health insurance. 

Smart Choice is the result of two years of research and pilot-testing that took place in seven states and is rolling out this fall through a series of educator and consumer workshops being held throughout the country. Through these workshops, participants learn how to analyze what they need and want from health care providers, compare plans, calculate how health insurance will affect their financial budgets, and ultimately, apply the information and knowledge gained to make a smart choice.

Here at the University of Maryland, the Smart Choice team led a series of workshops in both April and September for dozens of residential facilities employees. Consumer guides were produced in both Spanish and English and an interpreter helped facilitate the trainings.

The Smart Choice Health Insurance Consumer workbook is now available to everyone online at Open enrollment for state health insurance plans begins October 1. All University of Maryland employees are encouraged to utilize the Smart Choice Health Insurance Consumer Workbook, regardless of whether they participate in state health insurance plans or not. Open enrollment also begins October 1 for the state’s insurance marketplace where currently uninsured people can sign up for coverage.

“Smart Choice is not about pushing consumers to select any one specific plan,” says Bonnie Braun, Ph.D., co-leader of the team of University of Maryland experts that developed Smart Choice. “It’s designed to help people gain a set of skills so that they can choose a plan that best fits their family’s needs and then use that plan efficiently once enrolled.”

Braun (pictured right) and her team started developing this program in 2011 when they realized there was nothing else like it available for consumers. With health insurance currently in the public spotlight, Smart Choice seeks to capitalize on this teachable moment by helping Americans take control of their personal and family financial health needs.

“Keeping your head above water can be extremely difficult when navigating the waters of health insurance – whether you’ve been insured throughout your life or are faced with selecting coverage for the very first time,” says Braun. “Smart Choice acts like a life vest: it empowers people by eliminating the intimidation factor, explaining the steps in the process and ultimately showing them how to find the best fit for their needs.”

Consumers around the country can take advantage of this groundbreaking program now and throughout the fall. For more information on Smart Choice, visit


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