November 28, 2005
A failure to communicate
The problems older Americans are having determining how to use the new Medicare prescription drug benefit represent a cautionary tale that goes beyond the issue at hand. They remind us that in our computer age the right words are more important than ever.
On today’s Opinion page, Victor Kumin of Warner wrote a short essay decrying the tangle of “information” he plowed through in his futile effort to figure out the prescription drug benefit. He reeled off a litany of dead ends, broken links and clumsy terminology.
Kumin is far from alone in being an intelligent person frustrated by the bottom line of the drug plan. Several people have written or called the Monitor to voice similar frustrations. It doesn’t matter how smart you are or how much time you put in, they say, you can’t figure out what plan might be best for you. There is no there.
As a newspaper editor, I feel helpless about this. We’ve done some good local reporting on the prescription drug benefit, but if the companies offering the plans can’t provide clear, helpful information, how can we?
The confusion shows the value of communication skills. There’s a tendency to think the ease with which we can now transmit ideas and messages means it is also easy to get good information. But a smart society – a smart democracy – depends not on the fluidity or the volume of information. Rather it depends on the quality of the information and on the public’s ability to distinguish the good from the bad, the real from the bogus, the assertions from the facts.
We are a nation grounded in commerce. We know the marketplace is chaotic and can even be cruel, but we expect the interests of those selling goods to produce positive results. That is, in the present case, it is in the interest of health insurance companies not only to develop competitive products but also to be able to sell them. So why haven’t they?
There are only two answers. Either their executives did not come up with clear plans or they did but their PR people could not communicate them clearly.
Whichever is true, there are two lessons here that apply on a broader scale. There is a premium in the computer age not just on how to access information but also on how to process it. And in the marketplace of commodities, as in the marketplace of ideas, the ability to communicate is essential.
Posted by Mike Pride at November 28, 2005 05:05 PM