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LTCI Watch: Prepositional phrases

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The PBS NewsHour has been running some great segments on long-term care (LTC) recently.

One recent segment, for example, showed a daughter serving as a caregiver for her mother, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s.

The makers of the show said the segment will be the first in an occasional series of stories about LTC services.

This brought me back to 1996, when I interviewed for a job as a reporter at National Underwriter Life & Health, one of the print publications that feeds articles into I thought I was going in to interview for a job at the property-casualty edition. When I found out I’d been hired to write for Life & Health, I was terrified.

I’d worked at the Press-Journal in Vero Beach, Fla., so I understood that there was plenty to write about in the field of property-casualty insurance. 

But I hadn’t ever written much about life insurance, or health insurance. I pictured reporters covering those fields being able to write about two features per year, “Life insurance is still here and still works great,” and “Health insurance is still here and still works great.”

When I actually went to work and looked at these topics more closely, I discovered that the blurry fog of  confusion resolved into thousands of separate story ideas, most of which I’d never have to cover properly.

Of course, long-term care and long-term care insurance are the same way.  It’s still easy for me — and even, maybe, for people in the LTCI community — to think, hazily, in terms of the “LTCI market,” when, in fact, there are dozens, maybe hundreds of separate products still on the market or still in force, and many different types of buyers for the products, and many different ways the buyers could use the producers.

The LTC provider side of the story is another cloud of confusion that resolves into thousands of different story ideas once you get up close to it, and the same, of course, is true for the family caregivers, and the casual, non-family caregivers.

Outside of a few specialized publications, like this one and McKnight’s Long Term Care News, it’s pretty unusual to see news organizations write more than, say, one article every few weels about LTC issues. I think that those news organizations, and people as a whole, still ttend to see the top of long-term care as a distant, blurry cloud of confusion. They don’t grasp that it would be pretty easy to start an entire cable television channel devoted entirely to LTC-related programming.

One way I’ve found to force myself to see the important, interesting ideas inside a cloud of confusion is to think of the most specific subtopic I can come up with, then to make it more specific by adding two prepositional phrases.

If, say, one wants to write “about voluntary long-term care insurance,” a way to come up with a better, more focused article is to add two prepositional phrases along the lines of “for young workers in manufacturing,” or “for teachers at private schools.

It looks as if the producers at the PBS NewsHour are going to have to start making themselves see LTC issues more clearly by adding prepositional phrases to their own topic proposals. Maybe that represents the start of our society as a whole thinking about the issues with more precision.

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