15 September 2008

Health Insurance: The Saga Begins

Transitions in employment and retirement bring lots of paperwork. Like most boomers, Tom Bold and I give health insurance paperwork top priority. That is introduction to the week. The topic: communications we are receiving about health insurance and COBRA coverage.

Title of a communication received by mail:

The content was not difficult. Three main concepts, paraphrased:

  • 1 - This paper proves that you had prior health insurance.
  • 2 - This could be important if your next plan excludes some medical conditions.
  • 3 - You may have to show it even if your next plan does not exclude anything.
In short, this is a paper I need to hang on to. I know that I'm going to use my COBRA option for a while, but this certificate may be needed after my COBRA coverage ends. The language and content were not problematic. But the presentation required close and repeated reading. So, the complexity of my first communication about my health insurance coverage ranks pretty high, considering it was a one-page letter.

My recommendations back to the State would be:

Readability tip #1. Concerning the title of the communication: never put that many words in ALL CAPS. Full capitalization slows reading by more than 10%. For boomers, I daresay the slow-down is even more. Unfortunately, my State retirement system starts out a lot of communications in ALL CAPS. I had to read the title of this communication several times, and that was after I realized that I had not read it at all when I opened the letter. (ALL CAPS does that to us. Sometimes we skip a line completely.)

Readability tip #2. Never typeset the crucial text of a communication in 8- or 9-point type. I cannot actually say what font the State used. It's that small. Adding to the problem of small text, the width of the text block ran as much as 121 keystrokes. The ideal length is 39 keystrokes. I had to carry the letter into bright light to focus on the very small type. And I had to read the crucial block of text several times in order to catch the full meaning because my eye could not track the line length.

Readability tip #3. Do not use a mono-spaced typeface like Courier. Proportional spacing for characters and sentences helps readers de-code the message. Mono-space typing went out with the typewriters that required it.

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

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