Medicare site unites services

The federal government's Medicare Web site has unveiled a series of new initiatives to help unify its health care services online.

This is the first time information on all Medicare programs is available in one, easy-to-use place, according to Michael Hash, acting administrator of the Health Care Financing Administration, which runs the federal health program for the elderly.

More than 20 percent of senior citizens have access to the Internet, and they are among the fastest growing group of Web users in the United States.

New features on the site (www.medicare.gov) include:

    * Information on how to get low-cost or free prescription drugs from pharmaceutical companies, states, community-based programs and disease-specific programs. Although Medicare covers most health care costs for seniors, prescription drugs are not covered by the plan.

    * A directory of doctors who see Medicare patients. Users will be able to search by

    specialty and location.

    * An updated program comparing nursing home performance over time. Until now, only the most current survey results were available.

    * Medicare health benefits explained in Spanish.

"This is a work in progress, and we are eager to get feedback on how to improve the site, especially from physicians, who are required by many pharmaceutical company assistance programs to submit applications for their patients," Hash said.

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