Insurance Academy

I’m not convinced the readability laws work

By | July 17, 2019

Insurance policies are supposed to be written to comply with state readability statutes. The biggest problem with those statutes and requirements is that they don’t actually address the content of the policies.

This is the current Florida statute related to insurance policy readability: chapter 627.4145 (Readable language in insurance policies.)

Every policy shall be readable as required by this section. For the purposes of this section, the term “policy” means a policy form or endorsement. A policy is deemed readable if:

  1. The text achieves a minimum score of 45 on the Flesch reading ease test as computed in subsection (5) or an equivalent score on any other test comparable in result and approved by the office;
  2. It uses layout and spacing which separate the paragraphs from each other and from the border of the paper;
  3. It has section titles that are captioned in boldfaced type or that otherwise stand out significantly from the text;
  4. The style, arrangement, and overall appearance of the policy give no undue prominence to any portion of the text of the policy or to any endorsements or riders; and
  5. It contains a table of contents or an index of the principal sections of the policy, if the policy has more than 3,000 words or more than three pages.

In case you’re wondering, that section of Florida law scored a 50 on the Flesch reading ease test.

Please notice that the law didn’t mention anything about vocabulary, word usage, or specially defined words in the policy. It gave us requirements for formatting and Flesch score. Without boring all of us (including me), the Flesch reading ease score calculates reading ease by considering words per sentence and syllables per word. Use short sentences. Use short words. That makes for easy reading.

I guess.

Short sentences don’t make for easier reading. Good sentences do.

Short words don’t make for easier reading. The right words do. (only the best words…)

By the way, whenever I read an insurance policy, it still isn’t laid out like the books I’m reading are. The books I read are logical like your English teacher taught you to write way back in the day. You know, thoughts are laid out in paragraphs. Paragraphs group together into chapters. Each chapter deals with a particular subject, or a part of a story. The whole book travels in a logical order.

Insurance policies do that, too. And at the same time, they don’t. (I know, I’m sounding insurance-y now, but relax.)

Somehow, we decided the two-column writing made more sense than just putting all the text into one column. Why? I don’t know. I can tell you that it makes reading a policy a little harder for me. I have to concentrate harder to read the text in two columns.

Then we decided that we needed to define only the most important words. I understand this because of the way courts deal with ambiguities, and I really like it. At least I understand exactly what you’re looking for. The problem for me is that then we use words like reasonable and short time without defining them. It would be one thing if those words were found in places that didn’t matter much, but they find their way into parts of the policy that might be important.

Then we decide that the document can’t simply flow from one page to the next. We’re often referring backward and forward in the policy. We use terms like, “as provided in A.2.a.III above.” Yeah. Like anyone is patient enough to find A.2.a.III. I’m not exactly saying that I know of a good way to fix it. I’m just complaining that the readability rules don’t really seem to make insurance policies any more readable.

I hate doing this, because whenever I present a problem I want to present a solution. It’s something that the Army beat into me 20 years ago. I fear that I don’t have a solution to this yet. I’m working on it. Back in the Academy of Insurance bunker, we have a secret insurance policy laboratory where we are working on policies that will actually revolutionize, no! Disrupt. We will disrupt the whole industry with our patent pending proprietary policy parlance producer.

Maybe not. But I am thinking about ways to make reading policies easier.

About Patrick Wraight

Patrick Wraight, CIC, CRM, AU, is director of Insurance Journal's Academy of Insurance. He can be reached at pwraight@ijacademy.com.

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