Getting the message to pioneers

Public policies are only as good as their communication. This goes beyond thinking of the process of explaining and connecting with people as just one aspect of overall policy execution. Indeed, it goes to the heart of the public confidence and trust that sound policies can engender by substantiating their rationale, making clear the benefits, and demonstrating the solicitous attention of implementers.

From this perspective, it is not just the Pioneer Generation Package but all major government policies that require a big push out. When such communication is deemed as challenging by MPs, one might ask if this is the result of the complexity of details, a cultural gulf between administrators and sections of the public, or less than developed communication skills. Blame it partly on the impulse of policy framers to adopt a formal register of communication that leans less towards simplification and more to sometimes needless complexity, as qualifications are spelt out and processes specified. Translating this into an informal, easy-to-understand form - enlivened by everyday examples - is often an afterthought. Consequently, the message might go over the heads of those who are less educated.

In the case of the $8 billion package for pioneers, a government poll showed that 40 per cent of those who had heard of it could not name any of its benefits. It is to be expected that a proportion of the 450,000 people aged 65 and older this year will have some trouble in fully grasping the Community Health Assist Scheme, what moderate to severe functional disabilities mean, and the difference MediShield Life will make to their health care. Even younger people experience difficulty unravelling different health-care schemes. For many seniors, these details might matter less than simple, repeated assurances that their medical needs will be met and costs will not burden low-income families.

With that in mind, communication efforts should be also directed at their caregivers, especially as 70 per cent of pioneers live in a multi-generational household. Family members and discerning pioneers might seek more information than what front-line staff in health care or grassroots volunteers can provide. For example, they would wish to know how rising premiums in the years to come will be regulated. Only those aged 80 and above currently have little to fear as their premiums will be fully covered. With MediShield Life details still in the making, the current effort to explain the pioneers' package should not be seen as a publicity "blitz" but as part of a long-term effort to ensure key policies are always accessible to people through a range of communication strategies and platforms.