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Internet Guide to HMOs

       NEW YORK, April 03 (Reuters) -- Confused by an ocean of conflicting information on managed care health plans? A new federal guide to making smart health care choices can now be obtained simply by surfing the Internet.

       "'Choosing and Using a Health Plan' was developed for consumers who have a choice of health plans, and those who already are in a plan," say officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Agency for Health Care Policy and Research (AHCPR).

       'Choosing and Using a Health Plan' can be obtained by going to the AHCPR Web site,, and clicking on "consumer health."

       The guide has been developed in cooperation with the Health Insurance Association of America (HIAA), an industry trade association representing over 250 insurance and managed care companies across the nation.

       "There are different plans to meet the different needs of consumers," said HIAA President, Bill Gradison. "Our new guide will help people learn about these differences and decide which coverage options are most important to them."

       But what if your employer has already effectively picked out your plan? "Whether or not you are able to choose your own health plan, it is important to understand what kind of protection your plan provides and what you need to do to get the health care you and your family need," said AHCPR acting administrator, Dr. Lisa Simpson.

       The new guide should help answer consumer questions on subjects like varying benefit packages, plan-to-plan comparisons, choice of doctors, and rules on pre-existing conditions.

       Free copies of 'Choosing and Using a Health Plan' can also be obtained by calling the HIAA toll-free at 1-888-844-2782.

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