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Sounding the Medicare warnings, again


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 12, 2001

For the past three years, it's become as much of a ritual as baseball in the spring.

Medicare HMOs review medical costs, consider government reimbursement rates for the coming year and dump unprofitable markets.

Last year, such bottom-line analysis led Medicare HMOs to say they were dropping 934,000 members. Only by kicking, screaming and protesting did 10,000 Hernando County retirees attract two new plans into their area after existing Medicare HMOs called it quits.

Don't be surprised to hear more yelling this year when HMOs file their intentions with the government by July 1. Last week, Medicare released its HMO reimbursement rates for 2001 and the insurers' trade group says the increase isn't enough.

To care for a Medicare HMO member next year, the government will pay an insurer rates ranging from $601.42 a month in Pasco County to $553.03 in Pinellas. That's about a 2 percent increase in local markets. But the American Association of Health Plans says health care inflation is in the double digits.

The trade group said the rates are "a sobering reminder that unless Washington takes decisive action this year to rescue the program, the future of Medicare+

Choice is imperiled.'

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