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All teachers under age sixty-five, and those over age sixty-five who are not eligible for Medicare, shall be allowed to purchase medical coverage.

Does this mean:

All teachers under age sixty-five shall be allowed to purchase medical coverage. Those over age sixty-five who are not eligible for Medicare shall be allowed to purchase medical coverage.

Or does it mean:

All teachers under age sixty-five and those over age sixty-five who are not eligible for Medicare shall be allowed to purchase medical coverage.

I am being told that I cannot buy medical insurance because I am 60 and have medicare and still want to buy the insurance as a secondary policy.

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Plainly what matters is what this sentence means in law. It seems to mean you should be allowed to purchase medical insurance, but context is everything. It is going to be hard for anybody here to give you a definitive answer without a background in law and in the specific law or contract you are citing. –  MετάEd Feb 17 '13 at 0:44
    
It seems clear that you are in a significant minority: you're under 65 and already have Medicare. A lawyer picking the language nit here will certainly claim that there's an unstated exclusion criterion: eligibility for Medicare regardless of age. Comma placement & other linguistic devices are not respected by the pettifoggers or the courts. Just look at the garbage arguments about the meaning of the Second Amendment, which has two versions with different comma placements. –  user21497 Feb 17 '13 at 1:29
    
I’ll give you my Oxford comma when you pry it from my cold, dead hands. –  MετάEd Feb 17 '13 at 1:41
    
You have to use two returns to end a paragraph here; otherwise it all runs together. I’ve tried to reformat it into what I think you meant to write. –  tchrist Feb 17 '13 at 1:45
    
What Bill Franke and Jon Hanna say. Just for instance: it may be that 'medical coverage' is elsewhere specifically distinguished from 'supplemental coverage'. –  StoneyB Feb 17 '13 at 2:34
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closed as not constructive by MετάEd, FumbleFingers, tchrist, kiamlaluno, Kristina Lopez Feb 17 '13 at 16:16

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2 Answers

I would read it as covering all teachers under age 65, whether they are eligible for Medicare or not.

Partly I would read it this way, because of the comma placement. Partly I would read it this way, because without the comma placement it could be taken either way, but only one way has any point in writing it thus (the phrase "all teachers under age sixty-five and those over age sixty-five", when intended to be taken as a unit in terms of any later restrictive clause, would normally be written "all teachers"). And partly that point about there being no point in separating teachers on age otherwise, stands as a reason on its own.

That said, a post on the internet by a English language nerd isn't going to get you insurance; I'd recommend you talk to your union representative, a lawyer, or someone above the person who is denying you coverage. Answering your language question won't solve your bigger problem.

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pseudo-SQL,

set eligible2Purchase = yes
where teacher.age < 65
   or (
      teacher.age > 65
      and
      teacher.hasMedicare = no
   )

Programmatically,

allowCoverage(
  (age < 65 ) || 
  (age > 65 && !hasMedicare)
);

Progrmmatically in pseudo-code

Condition A = if (age less than 65);
Condition B = if (age over 65 and not eligible for medicare);
Any teacher satisfying (condition A or condition B)
shall be allowed to purchase coverage.

Syntax analysis,

if { 
   { teacher.age < 65 }
   or
   { teacher.age > 65 and {not eligible for medicare} }
}
teacher is allowed to purchase coverage.

Mathematically, the sentence is flawed because it provides conditions for

  • age less than 65
  • age over 65
  • but does not provide for age exactly 65.

However we shall overlook that flaw in the following mathematical Truth Table,

          Medicare  NotMedicare
Age < 65     A=N.A.      C
Age >= 65     B          D
  • A = Not applicable because condition does not exist
  • B = Not eligible to purchase coverage
  • C = Eligible to purchase coverage
  • D = Eligible to purchase coverage
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The language question comes down to whether these rephrasings are representative of the sentence or not, though. –  Jon Hanna Feb 17 '13 at 12:19
    
I enjoy using mathematical methods to analyse, if not to resolve, linguistic issues. –  Blessed Geek Feb 18 '13 at 16:31
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