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Data & Analytics

09:50 AM
Amanda Lannert, The Jellyvision Lab
Amanda Lannert, The Jellyvision Lab

How to Craft Better Insurance Industry Communications: Hire Writers, Not Lawyers

Focus group confusion leads to three communication insights related to regulatory compliance issues raised by the Affordable Care Act.

Amanda Lannert
Amanda Lannert, CEO, Jellyvision Lab
According to the average consumer, health insurance policies are reasonably easy to understand, right? Eh, not so much. That may not be a very penetrating observation, but one of the first compliance issues coming up in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act says insurance companies and group health plans will have to provide Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC) and Universal Glossary forms to help consumers understand their policies.

When the government needs to provide guidance on clear communication, you know you have a problem.So what got us into this mess in the first place? The design considerations for the SBC and Universal Glossary are based on focus group data collected in 2010. The outcome of the groups are essentially what you'd expect when ordinary people are asked to comment on the content, language, and layout of insurance company documents: they thought they sucked.

The focus groups covered a very specific topic—the proposed format for the SBC—but the findings reinforce what the people in the company I run have learned about discussing complicated subject matter.

Below are three important lessons that I'll illustrate with actual comments from the focus group participants:

Lesson #1: Conditional Language Frightens

"So I'm going to pay you $334 a month; I'm going to pay for my family a $10,000 deductible, and you 'might' cover my health care cost? I don't like the word at all. I don't even want to read that."

When people pay for insurance, they expect to be covered, and they panic when words like "might," "could," "possibly," or "should" start popping up. This kind of language sounds sneaky and makes people feel like the insurance company is trying to protect its own interests instead of serving theirs. There's got to be a better balance of serving the legal need to sometimes hedge and caveat while still communicating clearly.

Lesson #2: Blocks of Text Bore

"I don't know there is anything that stands out at all… It doesn't seem like it has any facts or any numbers or anything to go by… Looks boring…"

Nothing turns people off like long blocks of text, and dense passages of insurance copy is about as bad as it gets. Present ideas in digestible bites relieved by both white space and clear supporting pictures, please!

Lesson #3: Jargon Confuses

"Zero percent coinsurance with 40 percent… I don't understand that."

There's a major difference between a word someone doesn't know and a word that can confuse a non-expert into thinking it means something different. Cost-sharing terms like "coinsurance" and "allowed amount," for instance, are especially baffling. Take the time to explain these terms in-context because simply referring to a glossary isn't going to cut it.

So, dear readers, what's the real message of all this? Have real writers craft your communications, not subject matter experts and lawyers. Your copy should be simple and conversational. It should sound like it was written by a human being, and human beings should be able to read it and understand it. These are things that professional writers have been trained to do: subject matter experts and lawyers? Not so much.

About the Author: Amanda Lannert is CEO of The Jellyvision Lab. Amanda's focus is to apply brand management, strategic planning and product development disciplines to fuel Jellyvision's growth and the adoption of Interactive Conversations in the business marketplace. She likes cheese, dangerous sports, the color blue and owns a cat named Dog.

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