Friday, August 7, 2009

Plain English, a la H.R. 3200


(a) Accurate and Timely Disclosure-
(1) IN GENERAL- A qualified health benefits plan shall comply with standards established by the Commissioner for the accurate and timely disclosure of plan documents, plan terms and conditions, claims payment policies and practices, periodic financial disclosure, data on enrollment, data on disenrollment, data on the number of claims denials, data on rating practices, information on cost-sharing and payments with respect to any out-of-network coverage, and other information as determined appropriate by the Commissioner. The Commissioner shall require that such disclosure be provided in plain language.
(2) PLAIN LANGUAGE- In this subsection, the term `plain language' means language that the intended audience, including individuals with limited English proficiency, can readily understand and use because that language is clean, concise, well-organized, and follows other best practices of plain language writing.
(3) GUIDANCE- The Commissioner shall develop and issue guidance on best practices of plain language writing.

I wonder if the liars--uh, I mean, lawyers--who wrote H.R. 3200 could follow their own requirement:

From section 122:

        (A) IN GENERAL- The cost-sharing under the essential benefits package shall be designed to provide a level of coverage that is designed to provide benefits that are actuarially equivalent to approximately 70 percent of the full actuarial value of the benefits provided under the reference benefits package described in subparagraph (B).
Thankfully, the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, provides a section by section explanation of the bill. Here is the translation of 122 (3) (A):

Defines the initial essential benefit package as being actuarially

equivalent to 70% of the package if there were no cost-sharing imposed.

OK. Now I get it.

Here are some more examples:

A QHBP offering entity shall comply with the requirements of section 1857(f) of the Social Security Act with respect to a qualified health benefits plan it offers in the same manner an Medicare Advantage organization is required to comply with such requirements with respect to a Medicare Advantage plan it offers under part C of Medicare.

And Pelosi's translation:

Sec. 135. Timely payment of claims. Applies Medicare’s timely payment of claims standards to the plans offering coverage through the Exchange.



(2) TREATMENT OF FAMILY- Except as the Commissioner may otherwise provide, members of the same family who are affordable credit eligible individuals shall be treated as a single affordable credit individual eligible for the applicable credit for such a family under this subtitle.

Pelosi's translation:

None provided

For an individual's responsibility to obtain acceptable coverage, see section 59B of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (as added by section 401 of this Act).

Pelosi's translation:

Sec. 301. Individual responsibility. Cross-references the shared responsibility provision in the Internal Revenue Code where an individual has the choice of maintaining acceptable coverage or paying a tax.

(a) In General- The affordability cost-sharing credit under this section for an affordable credit eligible individual enrolled in an Exchange-participating health benefits plan is in the form of the cost-sharing reduction described in subsection (b) provided under this section for the income tier in which the individual is classified based on the individual's family income.

Pelosi's translation:

Sec. 244. Affordability cost-sharing credit. The affordability cost-sharing credit reduces cost-sharing for individuals and families at or below 133% of poverty up to 400% of the federal poverty limit as specified in the act.



(c) Special Rules-
(1) CHANGES IN INCOME AS A PERCENT OF FPL- In the case that an individual's income (expressed as a percentage of the Federal poverty level for a family of the size involved) for a plan year is expected (in a manner specified by the Commissioner) to be significantly different from the income (as so expressed) used under subsection (a), the Commissioner shall establish rules requiring an individual to report, consistent with the mechanism established under paragraph (2), significant changes in such income (including a significant change in family composition) to the Commissioner and requiring the substitution of such income for the income otherwise applicable.

Pelosi's translation:

Sec. 245. Income determinations. To determine income, the Health Choices Commissioner uses income data from the individual’s most recent tax return. The federal poverty level applied is the level in effect as of the date of the application. The Commissioner takes such steps as are appropriate to ensure accuracy of determinations and redeterminations to protect program integrity. Processes are established for individuals with significant changes in income to inform the Commissioner of such change. There are penalties for misrepresentation of income. The Commissioner is required to conduct a study examining the feasibility and implication of adjusting the application of the federal poverty level for different geographic areas so as to reflect the variations in the cost-of-living among various areas in the country.

Had enough? There are 1018 pages in this bill; the last section is number 2531. I find what I have read so far to be incomprehensible for the most part, even with Nancy Pelosi's help in understanding it. This is despite the requirement, cited above, for plain language. It is typical of Congress to apply different standards to the rest of us than they apply to themselves.

Can you imagine the challenge for our dauntless congressmen--not the brightest stars in the firmament, for the most part--to try to understand this thing? Unfortunately, their failure to understand it will not stop them from voting for it.

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