Congress improves its writing skills

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It sounds like a set-up for a punch line. The Senate this week passed the Plain Writing Act of 2010. Plain Writing Act? So what do we have now? Inscrutable, government-speak?

Perhaps. But kidding aside for the moment, the bill sounds pretty good. It requires the federal government to write documents, such as tax returns, federal college aid applications, and Veterans Administration forms, in simple language. That is according to the Center for Plain Language, a nonprofit group that advocated for the bill's passage. The act passed the U.S. House of Representatives in March 2010. The amended Senate bill goes back to the House for final approval.

“This is a triumphant moment for all those who support plain language use,” said Annetta Cheek, chair of the board of directors of the Center for Plain Language. “The act defines plain writing as writing that the audience can understand and use because it is clear, concise, well-organized, and follows other best practices of plain writing.”

Noted Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI), who helped lead the effort to pass the bill: “Americans lose time and money because government instructions, forms, and other documents are too complicated. The Plain Writing Act will require agencies to write documents which are clear, well organized, and understandable, leading to fewer customer service questions and increased compliance, making the government more efficient.”

And that brings me back to my first jab. Anyone in the nursing home field knows that the industry's regulations are not always written in the clearest of terms. (You reading this, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services?) If only we could pass a bill that would make this government language easier to understand.

Wouldn't it make sense to have rules governing the field be “clear, well organized, and understandable, leading to fewer customer service questions and increased compliance?” Why should regular Americans get all the breaks?

And regarding the healthcare reform law, I suggest we pass a Shorter is Better Act. Then we'd actually know what is in the 2,000-page monster of a document. Anyone want to sign my petition? 

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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.