Category: ACA and Policy, Cost of Healthcare, Government Programs, Health Insurance


Straight Talk denizen Mike Bertaut is taking a break this week and letting his editors speak about a project close to their hearts – clear communication.

Message from Mike: The Straight Talk blog is so blessed to have a very talented team converting my thoughts every week into salient and sensible prose that speaks to all of us. This week, my editors, Lindsey Burton and Teresa Day, are taking the reins to talk about the commitment Blue Cross has to clear language in our communications.  You won’t be disappointed!

One in five adults reads at the fifth grade level or below. Nearly half of all American
adults have limited literacy skills and trouble understanding and acting on health
information. More than one third of American adults would have trouble following
directions on a prescription drug label or other common health tasks.

Source: Karen A. Schriver, Dynamics in Document Design

The numbers above probably include a lot of people Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana insures. And even if you can read at a high school or college level, it doesn’t mean you have time to wade through a river of complicated health and legal terms.

What does this have to do with Straight Talk? Well, Straight Talk isn’t just a blog at Blue Cross; it’s becoming a way of life. Five years ago, we started our clear communication project. Since then, we’ve worked hard to make the letters, forms and other communications we send you easier to understand. We even hired an outside expert to tell us everything we were doing wrong and how to fix it. After all, it doesn’t matter how often we communicate with you if you don’t understand what we’re saying.

We at Blue Cross live and breathe healthcare and the insurance business every day. Cursed with knowledge, it makes it hard to realize that we may not have always been clear to you, our members. People who can’t understand what their doctors, pharmacists and health insurance companies are trying to tell them generally have poor health outcomes. It makes sense. When you understand health information, it helps you get the most out of your healthcare coverage.

Want to see the difference clear language can make? Take this letter that used to go out to new parents:

This gobbledy-gook was sent just days or weeks after the birth of a baby, when new moms and dads are already tired and maybe overwhelmed. “We have recently processed a claim for physician services rendered to your newborn child during the hospital stay.” Wait! Who did what to my baby?

And after you waded through that first paragraph, you finally get to the meat of the letter – a request to send in a form that adds your new baby to your family’s health plan. Did you even make it that far before you gave up? Don’t feel bad if not – most of us didn’t, either.

This is the new letter:


This one very directly tells a sleep-deprived parent what to do: A bold subject line tells you up front to “Add your child to your plan today.” Definitely clearer. There is also language that uses smaller, simpler words. Instead of talking about “services rendered,” the letter now explains that we have already received claims from the doctor for your child’s care in the hospital.

How about this one we used to send our customers when they turn 65?


Do you understand what that first paragraph is trying to say without reading it twice (or more)? Does this seem like an “efficient way to meet your health needs?” We don’t think so.

This is what the letter says today:


This version is much clearer. We have to follow a federal rule that affects how your health plan pays for care after your 65th birthday, depending on whether you are retired or not. Please tell us whether you are retired. Federal laws, rules and regulations don’t make our jobs easy, but we want to make it easier for you to understand why we are asking you to take the time to send us information.

We started our clear language project to help make insurance less of a muddle for our members. So far, more than 150 of the people at Blue Cross who write letters about pharmacy benefits, wellness programs, customer service, network management and more have been trained to write with smaller words, clearer headings, better design and generally make information easier for you to take in and digest.

Our team has looked at more than 100 documents and 40 automatically generated letters. We’ve started re-writing insurance policies using clear-language standards. When you call the customer service number on the back of your ID card, the representative you talk to will be able to give you information in laymen’s terms.

Our clear language initiative is one of the ways we are working to protect you every day. We want to reduce your anxiety about healthcare and the important decisions you have to make. You’ve got enough to worry about; we don’t want to add to those concerns. Hopefully our clear communication project is working. (Leave a comment or thumbs up to let us know if you’ve seen a difference!)

Posted on: April 19, 2016

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