“Generally, the maximum period of continuation coverage is measured from the date of the original qualifying event (for Federal COBRA, this is generally 18 months). However, ARRA, as amended, provides that the 15 month premium reduction period begins on the first day of the first period of coverage for which an individual is ‘assistance eligible.’ This is of particular importance to individuals who experience an involuntary termination following a reduction of hours. Only individuals who have additional periods of COBRA (or state continuation) coverage remaining after they become assistance eligible are entitled to the premium reduction.”
What does that mean? Well, essentially, it explains that certain laid-off or downsized workers can get special subsidies for 15 months after they lose their employer-sponsored health coverage.
It is complicated information to have to absorb. But does it have to be so complex to read?
The anti-jargon warriors don’t think so. Fed up with such gibberish, a small but growing band of civil servants, lawmakers and consultants is leading the charge against bureaucratic legalese. Their mission isn’t just to cut down on government forms in triplicate. They believe that Washington is dysfunctional on a more basic level and that to fix the government, the public needs to understand what the government is telling them.
It’s a movement that’s deeply populist in spirit, with its aim to bring the government closer to the people. And activists across ideological lines have echoed the same cause: The Occupy Wall Street crowd rails against deliberately impenetrable credit-card billing practices; tea partyers find evils lurking behind every run-on sentence in regulatory reform bills.
Ultimately, proponents believe that they’re protecting the sanctity not only of the English language but also of the republic itself. “How can you trust anyone if you don’t understand what they’re saying?” says Annetta Cheek, a 25-year veteran of the federal government who now runs a nonprofit called the Center for Plain Language. “When you’re supposed to be a democracy, and people don’t even understand what government is doing, that’s a problem.”
Plain-language advocates acknowledge that slaying jargon within the federal bureaucracy often seems impossible. But their ranks are growing in Washington, and officials loyal to the cause are embedded in the highest levels of all three branches of government.
“When people talk about government red tape, first, it’s because of the incomprehensible gobbledygook that’s used to write many of these federal regulations,” says Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), the House’s point man for plainspeak. “The average user can’t understand their responsibilities unless they hire lawyers and accountants to figure it out.”