Join The Discussion


Super PAC Men: How political consultants took a Fort Worth oilman on a wild ride

The head of a Texas oil dynasty joined the parade of wealthy political donors, aiming to flip the Senate to Republicans. By the time consultants were done with him, the war chest was drained and fraud allegations were flying

read more >

Bridge collapse on I-35 north of Austin

SALADO, Texas (AP) — Emergency crews are responding to a reported bridge collapse along an interstate in Central Texas.

read more >

Amazon begins Prime Now program in Dallas area

If you just have to have it now, as in one hour, you can, at least in the Dallas area, as Inc. announced Thursday it will offer Prime Now.

read more >

Latin-inspired restaurant set to open in downtown Fort Worth

Downtown Fort Worth’s dining scene is about to get spicier with the opening of a new restaurant featuring Latin-inspired coastal cuisine.

read more >

Texas jobless rate falls as employers add workers

Texas unemployment fell to 4.3 percent during February for the sixth straight month of declines, the Texas Workforce Commission reported Friday.

read more >


Vital Signs: Taking the Plain Writing Act personally


From what I heard at both the Texas Conference on Health Disparities on May 30-31 and the Tarrant County Health Literacy Symposium on June 6, a lot of people have a long way to go to comply with the Plain Writing Act of 2010.
The goal of the Plain Writing Act is to improve effectiveness and accountability of federal agencies by promoting clear government communications that the public can understand and use.
Plain writing means writing in language that the intended audience can readily understand and use because it is clear, concise, well organized and follows other best practices.
It covers any document necessary to obtain any federal benefit or service, to provide information about any federal benefit or service, or to explain to the public how to comply with any requirement the federal government administers or enforces.
Judging from all the complex and repetitive Medicare literature I received upon turning 65 this month, I believe some federal agencies have a long way to go. (I would say most of them, but that would be an assumption because I have not had to deal with most of them, thank goodness.)
And judging from the fact that just to sign up for Medicaid and SNAP (food stamps) in Texas, you must wade through 26 pages of instructions and forms (in tiny print), I think it’s safe to say this state makes even greater demands on people who are largely health-illiterate, which is most of us.
By way of contrast, Laurie Martin, a policy researcher with the RAND Corp., displayed the two-page application for a bank bailout through the TARP Capital Purchase Program alongside the 26 pages it takes to file for Medicaid in Texas, during her presentation at the Literacy Symposium in Arlington.
The average payout for the completed Medicaid application is $57 per person per month or $228 per month for a family of four, Martin said. The average payout from the two-page TARP application is $271,148,777.91 – more than $135 million per page.
The RAND Corp. says Texas Medicaid has “the biggest burden” with “the smallest payback” of any government program. RAND is a nonprofit firm dedicated to improving policy and decision-making through research and analysis.
Martin’s presentation clearly demonstrated the burden of illiteracy when it comes to the complex subject of health care, which often depends on documents with lots of scientific jargon, tables and legal disclaimers.
Most of us are at least somewhat illiterate when it comes to health care, Martin says.
We don’t really know what congestive heart failure means or what a carcinoma is. We don’t understand the difference between steroids that athletes sometimes use to bulk up and add strength and steroids our doctors might prescribe to reduce swelling and inflammation. And we don’t know what to do about “poor glycemic control.”
Timing is everything.
Just when we most need to be literate and make informed decisions – when we are in pain or scared or confused about our own new diagnosis, or distraught about our children’s or elderly parents’ pain and suffering, or when we get bad news from our latest lab tests – we are most likely to be illiterate.
“You can be well educated and not have health literacy when you are thrust into a situation that is foreign to you,” Martin told me during a break at the symposium. Only 12 percent of U.S. adults can read, understand and effectively use basic medical instructions and information, she said.
When I suggested that the Internet must be helping a lot, she pointed out that much of the medical information online is outdated, erroneous or from disgruntled bloggers who have an ax to grind concerning their own health care.
There is so much information online, that it is difficult to sort through and figure out just what is coming from the National Library of Medicine, the National Institutes of Health, the Mayo Clinic and other trusted sources, and what is coming from individuals who do not know any more about the subject than you do.
To help with that problem, the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth is offering a series of training sessions for area librarians, public health practitioners, professional associations and community-based organizations, Andi Spencer, the outreach librarian at UNTHSC, said at the symposium.
More than half of all people who go to Tarrant County libraries to use computers are seeking health care information, Spencer said. “Building the Bridge to Health: Consumer Health Information at Your Library” is funded through a United Way “Live Well” grant. For more information, go to

Send health care news to Carolyn Poirot at

< back

Email   email
How 'bout them Cowboys?