December 20-26, 2006

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News Briefs

By Patricia Lynn Henley

Heads up, seniors

In yet another example of the smooth-running Medicare reforms, seniors who believe their needs are taken care of with their current prescription and managed healthcare plans may be in for an end-of-the-year shock. Many private insurance companies are raising rates and changing which drugs are covered starting Jan. 1, but haven't told their policyholders. Official notices were supposed to be mailed in early November. Some insurance companies--Medicare officials don't know exactly how many--are running behind and won't be mailing the documents until this week. At least some premiums will be doubling or tripling. Recipients' deadline for switching plans is Dec. 31. A Medicare spokesman says nothing's been decided yet, but officials are working on how to handle cases where seniors get last-minute notification of increases or changes and don't have time to switch to a plan that better meets their needs. A senior advocate recommends that if you haven't been told exactly what your Medicare rates and coverage will be for 2007, call your insurance company directly to ask for details, then call 1.800.MEDICARE to lodge a formal complaint about the lack of notice.


Local and state officials are hoping you'll assist in cracking down on drunken drivers now through New Year's. There were 3,424 fatal collisions on California roadways in 2005; about 46 percent involved alcohol. To prevent these tragedies, law enforcement agencies always take extra steps during the holidays to spot and stop impaired motorists. This year they want everyone involved. "We're asking the public to report drunk drivers by calling 911 and providing the location and a complete description of the vehicle. This will help us know who we're looking for and where to look," says California Highway Patrol commissioner Mike Brown. Phone 911 if you see drivers who make turns with an unusually wide radius or turn abruptly or illegally; drift from lane to lane; brake erratically; straddle the center line of the road or lane; barely miss hitting an object or another vehicle; weave and zigzag across the road; or drive toward oncoming or crossing traffic. And be sure to designate a driver; a $3.7 million federal grant is paying for sobriety checkpoints statewide. Another $2.4 million federal grant will pay for prosecuting DUI cases. The district attorneys of Marin, Napa and Sonoma counties are all participating in this "Make It Home for the Holidays" campaign.

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