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Medicare 101: New guide helps seniors navigate a maze of healthcare information

May 20, 2011 | 11:05 am

Doctor Picture As the nation's baby boomers sign up for Medicare, they face a bewildering assortment of questions about their healthcare.

In addition to a raft of complicated information from the government, a national consumer group also is offering some answers.

Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, has produced a free guide about changes this year to the federal government's insurance program for the elderly under the new national healthcare law.

The 16-page manual, "Medicare: 6 things you need to know now," is aimed at the 36 million Americans covered by the original Medicare program and 11 million others enrolled in private Medicare Advantage plans.

It lists, for example, the many preventive medical services that are fully covered under the law for those in the original Medicare program. These include prostate and colon cancer screenings, mammograms, flu shots and pneumonia vaccinations.

The guide also explains how prescription drug costs will decrease once Medicare beneficiaries reach the so-called doughnut hole -- the point in Medicare drug plans at which beneficiaries have paid the full amount in the past for medications.

"Whether you have Medicare, you're about to be eligible, or have a loved one in the program, the guide helps you sort through what's new in today's system," said Jim Guest, president of Consumers Union.

The guide can be downloaded at A Spanish version is available at

Copies also can be obtained by calling 1-855-CR-GUIDE.

-- Duke Helfand