The Internal Revenue Service received an award for the written clarity of its official notices, while insurance provider CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield of Maryland received an award for the most confusing language.

The Center for Plain Language gave the IRS its Grand ClearMark Award for the clearest language with its simplified notices, while CareFirst got the WonderMark Award of confusion for its muddled explanation of health care benefits.

“The IRS has worked hard to overcome its image with Americans and these two revised notices are a sign that the IRS has changed,” said Annetta Cheek, PhD, chair of the board of directors of the Center for Plain Language.

The awards were presented Thursday, April 28 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
In giving the IRS the Grand ClearMark Award, the judges said the two IRS notices use an active voice and clear language. Both forms use “we” and “you” so that it personally identifies the party who has the duty. The IRS also was a co-winner in the ClearMark Award category of revised document in the public sector.

Other winners of the ClearMark Award included the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Environmental Health for the document Lead Poisoning Words, A to Z, and the National Institute on Aging’s Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center for the document Understanding Memory Loss by JBS International.

The overall WonderMark Award recipient was the CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield of Maryland’s Explanation of Benefits. The judges said that this was a classic example of required disclosure that provides no information. There were pages of calculations that left the reader no more or less certain that the calculation is accurate. The judges felt that the document required a leap of faith on the part of the insured person. They said that the document made it impossible to understand what the insurance company is trying to explain. Further, the words "this is not a bill" don't appear until the third page. This document is not an explanation of anything that makes sense. And one judge felt that if executives were required to read their company documents, we might not have documents as terrible as these.

Other WonderMark Award finalists for muddled writing included Microsoft for the license terms of its Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack and the interpretive statement for the New Jersey electoral ballot.

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