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"A Tip or Two on Medicare Advantage"

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Leslie Norwalk's reign as Deputy Administrator of the government agency that runs Medicare is scheduled to come to an end this Friday. Leslie's in charge at The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), a very smart woman entrusted with a very difficult job made all the more troublesome these days by a bill that four years ago put a large portion of Medicare in the hands of private insurance companies.

More than 8 million seniors are now enrolled in private Medicare plans known as Medicare Advantage, or Dis-Advantage as I said during our two-part series on the Evening News this week. During an engaging interview Ms. Norwalk never wavered from her message: we're working to ease the confusion among all the plans; working to weed out the unscrupulous salesman preying on unknowing seniors; working to make this, well, work.

The problem is – it's really not. Not according Bob Hayes, president of the Medicare Rights Center in New York, which every year fields thousands of calls from seniors petrified they made the wrong choice, were sold a bill of goods, or can't get off a plan they don't want or need. Not according to state health experts we surveyed across the country (see related story)

. And certainly not according to seniors like 86-year-old Aaron Cohen of Connecticut or the late TW Aldridge of Mississippi, the centers of our stories this week.

When we do stories about Medicare Advantage I think of our audience – an average age of about 60 – sitting at home faced with just the kind of issues and problems we're talking about on television. Reporting on Medicare, especially on TV, is anything but easy, and frankly we struggled at times this week to simplify a complex set of facts and figures, to help you understand a major medical decision you're either facing or will soon face.

The best advice I can offer is don't enter the world of private Medicare insurance without help from someone who has the time and intellect to decipher a plethora of plans and to help get you off those plans if they fail to meet your medical needs. If a family member or friend isn't available then take Leslie Norwalk's advice and call 1-800-MEDICARE, or the Medicare Rights Center at 1-800-333-4114. You can't lose.

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