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Eleven years ago, a film titled Idiocracy was released. In the movie, Luke Wilson plays an American of average intellect who wakes up 500 years into the future, only to discover that he is now, by far, the most intelligent person in the “dumbed down” society in which he finds himself.
Some might findIdiocracy an excellent metaphor for the Division’s current project to revamp the PLN (Plain Language Notice) forms. The Division is currently proposing revisions to plain language notices PLN-1 through PLN-12, and is proposing a new PLN-13 and PLN-14, intended to act as subsets of the PLN-3. One of the stated goals for the proposed changes to the forms is to provide an emphasis on use of plain language and communication via a “simple and easy to understand” manner. More specifically, the Division’s research apparently shows that the average claimant reads at a fifth-grade level, and that language on the current forms exceeds this reading level.
Yes, you read this correctly– the Division wants to make the forms comprehensible to someone whose vocabulary is roughly equivalent to an eleven-year-old child. As an example, below is the current language of the PLN-1, followed by its proposed revision:
We are denying your claim for workers’ compensation benefits. Workers’ compensation benefits, including medical benefits, are not being paid because _____.
We, [Name of carrier], looked at your workers’ compensation claim. Based on the facts we got about your claim, we are not going to pay income or medical benefits.&nbnbsp; The reason for this is_____.
The Division is proposing division of the the PLN-3 (Notification of MMI/First IIBs payment) into three different notices: the PLN-3, PLN-13, and PLN-14. Each proposed form is to be used to report a different payment scenario when a claimant reaches clinical or statutory MMI.
Additionally, while the PLNs are forms prescribed by the Division, the new forms indicate that insurance carriers must print the PLNs on their own letterhead.
At this time, there is no indication as to whether (or not) the Division has conducted any specific research or surveys to determine the reading level of injured employees in Texas. However, many have expressed concern that revising the PLNs to simplify the reading level to that of a fifth grader may offend the many injured employees (not to mention other system participants) who read at a higher grade level. Does “plain” language really equate to “dumbed-down” language, and if so, do the forms really warrant this drastic of a change?