Tough to communicate

Tom Murphy 1488

Communication is fraught with miscommunication. Language usage can supplant pronunciation, spelling and meaning.

Phonetically speaking, “ghoti” can be pronounced “fish” following this logic: If the “gh” in tough is pronounced “f,” the “o” in women is a short “i” sound, and the “ti” in action is pronounced “sh.”

Do the people in England speak the same language as we do? Note these differences: windscreen/windshield, trunk/boot, courgette/zucchini, and the committee says/the committee say.

Here’s a relevant example for UFT retirees. At RTC meetings, my colleagues and I have for years tried to explain how IRMAA works as a Medicare Part B reimbursement. The acronym was so confounding for speakers and audience alike that when one retiree called the union and insisted on speaking to Irma, a colleague took the call and quipped, “Hi, this is Irma. How may I help you?”

So, let’s look at the terms Medicare Advantage and Medicare Advantage Plus.

Comfortable with our current health care plans, many retirees have harbored a great suspicion of the new NYC Medicare Advantage Plus Plan.

The majority of in-service UFT members over the years chose GHI and were suspicious of the HIP Health Plan as managed care and of lesser quality. Labor support for the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) hinged on maintaining employer-based health plans for those in unions that had negotiated such benefits. That abhorrence of managed care carried over into retirement.

The name of the new plan has added to the general suspicion. The term “Medicare Advantage” has a troubled history. It got a bad reputation, often associated with the worst health care plans and the effort started during the Bush administration to privatize Medicare. The unfortunate term “Medicare Advantage” is fixed in federal law and must be used to create a new and different plan because that’s how the health care universe operates.

But the new plan is a large group plan, not the for-profit Medicare Advantage plans for individuals that restricted care and demanded greater out-of-pocket costs. So, to indicate that our new plan is different and enhanced, the negotiators called it the New York City Medicare Advantage Plus Plan.

But convincing retirees that this language adjustment signifies a different kind of plan is like trying to explain IRMAA. The term has to be deconstructed into its constituent parts. Each element has to be analyzed and understood before the meaning can be reassembled and then understood as a whole.

Perhaps a phonetic linguist can look at “ghoti” and pronounce it as “fish,” but it defies common perception and immediate understanding.

Health care is the proverbial third rail of union benefits. There is a trust factor here that is beyond linguistics. Presenting this New York City Medicare Advantage Plus Plan to retirees is tough stuff. But since we have always advised that we, as UFT members, have to be our own best health care advocates, retirees have every right to be skeptical and demand the details.

We have tried to offer the best and most comprehensive information so retirees can make their own informed choices. We have to use words to do so. No matter how fraught with misunderstanding language can be, those words must have the power to communicate. That is our ongoing task.

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