In the first stage of what Clinton administration officials are calling the government's largest peacetime education effort in history, HCFA finished sending out its new Medicare & You 1999 handbooks to beneficiaries in five test states last week.
The states are Arizona, Florida, Ohio, Oregon and Washington.
The materials were delayed in several areas that were hardest hit by HMO pullouts last month, including eastern Washington and parts of Florida, a HCFA spokesman said.
Each of the handbooks comes with a listing of health plan and fee-for-service options in an area.
The handbooks were printed before the Oct. 2 deadline for health plans to notify HCFA that they were exiting the Medicare program. But because of a quirk in the law, other plans may still drop out of the program (See story, this page).
Handbooks in the areas that were hit by the HMO exodus will include a disclaimer that notifies beneficiaries of the changes, but the list of options will not be modified.
The handbooks also will omit information about plans that will be available for the first time in 1999.
Nationwide, more than 100 plans either left Medicare completely or reduced their service areas. More than 500,000 beneficiaries were affected. HCFA said it could not estimate how many beneficiaries were affected in the five states that will receive the new handbook.
The handbook includes a description of each plan, beneficiary costs, prescription drug coverage information and any extra benefits offered by the plan.
The handbooks are being sent to 5.5 million households. Seniors not in the five test states will receive a less comprehensive Medicare guide in the next year. It will not include any information on individual health plans.
A toll-free telephone number to assist seniors began operating in the five test states in late October.