Manual Removes the ‘Human’ From Human Services

The mail periodically brings stuff that belongs to people who don’t live here and haven’t been in the neighborhood for twenty years or more. I still haven’t figured out who these folks are, and there’s no way to forward their mail, which generally goes in the recycle bin. Late last week, however we received “Medicare & You 2010.” It is the official government (written in red) handbook explaining Medicare benefits.

The thing is 127 pages long. My first thought was: This booklet is going to people who are mostly elderly or ill, or both. Are they really going to be able to navigate the maze? I used to represent Medicare beneficiaries, and I was confused after the first few pages.

It didn’t bode well that immediately following the cover was an entire page explaining how to use the rest of the manual. The page listed the contents, which was separate from the two-page Table of Contents, which was actually just called “Contents,” followed the four-page Index, which should come at the end, not on pages seven through ten. Two parts of the “How to Use” page were labeled with symbols: “!” for important stuff and an apple for “preventive services.” But my favorite was the “Blue Words.” Blue words should describe the way readers would be talking after trying to sort through the information, but they were actually a reference to the definitions, a section not found at the beginning or at the end of the manual but tucked in the middle. Who writes these things? Do they test them before they unleash them on the unsuspecting public? I doubt it.

To be fair, “Medicare & You” is long in part because the type size is huge, the one concession to the recipients. But there are so many apples and exclamation points and blue words scattered about that the type may be a hindrance rather than a help.

When I read past the preliminaries and turned to the substance, I decided blue words didn’t cover what I was thinking – they were closer to purple. Here’s a sample from page 25:

If the Part B deductible [blue word] applies, you must pay all costs until you meet the yearly Part B deductible before Medicare begins to pay its share. See page 125 for the Part B deductible amount.* Then after your deductible is met, you typically pay 20% of the Medicare-approved amount [blue words] of the service. You can save money if you choose doctors or providers who accept assignment. See page 47. You may also be able to save money on your Medicare costs if you have limited income and resources. See pages 78-84.

*A check of page 125 says: “You pay 20% of the Medicare-approved amount for most doctor services (including most doctor services while you are a hospital inpatient), outpatient therapy,* most preventive services, and durable medical equipment.

*In 2010, there may be limits on physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech-language pathology services. If so, there may be exceptions to these limits.

Got that? My head is hurting, and I’m very glad I don’t have to deal with this stuff for real. (The time will be here soon enough and I can just imagine what new complications will arise.) No wonder doctors’ offices employ more people in billing than in providing actual medical services.

If you need a sleeping pill, read the entire booklet at “Medicare & You.

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