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Medicare News

For Immediate Release: Contact:
Tuesday, December 31, 2002 CMS Office of Public Affairs

For questions about Medicare please call 1-800-MEDICARE or visit


The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has approved a request by United Healthcare Insurance Co. to offer a Medicare managed care plan in the city of St. Louis, Mo., six Missouri counties and three Illinois counties as part of a demonstration program recently announced by Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson. The health plans under this program are modeled after coverage offered by preferred provider organizations (PPOs) to most Americans under age 65.

United Healthcare Insurance, based in Minnetonka, Minn., can begin on Jan. 1, 2003, to serve beneficiaries with this plan. The plan, known as Medicare Complete Choice (PPO), will be available in the city and county of St. Louis and, in the St. Louis area, the Missouri counties of Franklin, Jefferson, St. Charles and Warren. In Illinois, the new PPO will be available in the counties of Madison, Monroe and St. Clair.

The plan also includes Crawford County, Mo., which is located southwest of the St. Louis metro area. Medicare beneficiaries can sign up for the plan immediately during the current Medicare+Choice open enrollment period.

About 385,000 Medicare beneficiaries live in the plan’s coverage area. Beneficiaries in Crawford County can also choose to enroll in United HealthCare’s existing Medicare HMO plan. Beneficiaries in the other coverage areas may choose from other Medicare+Choice plans, including Mercy Health Plans of Missouri Inc., Sterling Life Insurance Co., United HealthCare and Group Health Plan Inc. (Group Health Plan is not offered in Warren, Franklin or Monroe counties).

"This demonstration program gives seniors new options for their Medicare coverage similar to that available in the private insurance market," Secretary Thompson said. "Greater access and expanded options and choices in health care are key goals of this Administration."

Congress created Medicare+Choice in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 to expand the types of health care options available to Medicare beneficiaries, enabling them to receive new preventive benefits and greater patient protections. Preferred provider type coverage was previously unavailable to Medicare beneficiaries.

"Whether beneficiaries enroll in a PPO or another Medicare+Choice plan, or fee-for-service Medicare, we are doing more to guarantee they understand the Medicare options available to them," CMS Administrator Tom Scully said. "The under age 65 market is rapidly flocking toward PPO products, which give patients the flexibility they need. Seniors want the same options and this is the big first step in getting them there."

Currently, Medicare+Choice health maintenance organizations (HMOs) are available where private companies choose to offer them. About 5.6 million Medicare beneficiaries -- out of a total of nearly 40 million aged and disabled Americans -- have enrolled in Medicare HMOs. Original fee-for-service Medicare, available to all beneficiaries, is currently chosen by more than 34 million beneficiaries. Unlike traditional HMOs, the new options will allow beneficiaries who choose to enroll, access to services provided outside the contracted network of providers.

The demonstration program, announced Aug. 27, 2002, includes new health plans that will ultimately be available in 23 states across the country, expanding health care options to approximately 11 million Medicare beneficiaries.

The demonstration plans will be considered Medicare+Choice plans and must offer all of Medicare’s required benefits, but will also have the flexibility to offer additional services, including prescription drugs. Most important, they will offer beneficiaries a wider choice of health care providers than is currently offered in HMOs.

A number of resources with information regarding the plan offered by United HealthCare are available as part of various CMS consumer information sources, including a national toll-free phone number -- 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), or TTY/TDD, at 877-486-2048, and the CMS Internet site --

Consumers can also utilize United HealthCare’s toll free numbers to learn more about the company’s PPO product (1-888-264-8761 or TTY 1-800-232-7988). In addition, a coalition of more than 200 national and local organizations is available to assist seniors in making informed decisions about their health care options.

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