2009-01-16 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

Commentary By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

AUDREY PHEFFER AUDREY PHEFFER The vast array of health care products and services available to consumers can be extremely daunting. Consumers and caregivers in search of effective and affordable care may find themselves lost in a maze of information relating to governmental assistance and insurance programs.

Fortunately, there are resources available from the New York State Office for the Aging, the Federal Trade Commission, and the New York State Department of Health aimed at helping consumers select the products and services that best meet their health care needs.

The New York State Health Insurance Information Counseling and Assistance Program (HIICAP) is a statewide network providing health insurance information, counseling and assistance free of charge.

Consumers and caregivers may contact HIICAP to speak with trained counselors about all aspects of health insurance and health care programs, such as Medicare, long term care insurance, and prescription drug benefits. The Program has local offices covering every county in the State.

The New York City HIICAP office, a service for persons of all ages, is housed within the New York City Department for the Aging.

To speak with a counselor, city residents may call (212) 341-3200. For more information, you may visit the Program's website at: http://www.nyc.gov html/ dfta/html/senior/hiicap.shtml.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently announced the publication of a new health care website aimed at seniors and caregivers.

The website, entitled "Who Cares: Sources of Information About Health Care Products and Services," contains numerous fact sheets on health care topics, as well as links to trusted sources of health information.

The website also provides contact information for agencies and organizations that offer reliable information about generic drugs, caregiving, alternative medicine, hearing aids, Medicare fraud, and other important topics. One section of the website focuses on teaching consumers how to spot misleading and deceptive claims related to medical products services, and other sections contain a list of a resources to contact with questions, to request assistance, or register a complaint about a health product or service.

You may visit the Who Cares website at: http://www.ftc. gov/whocares. The FTC has also produced a booklet containing much of the information presented on the website. You can order a copy of the Who Cares booklet from the FTC by calling toll-free 1-877-FTC-HELP (1- 877-382-4357).

Many consumers are surprised to learn that prescription drug prices can vary greatly between pharmacies. If you or a family member lacks prescription drug coverage, or has limited coverage, consider visiting the New York State Department of Health's Prescription Drug Price website where you can compare retail prices for the one hundred and fifty most frequently prescribed drugs. The Prescription Drug Price website, which is updated regularly, is searchable by city, county and zip code. The website also contains a function that allows a user to search for pharmacies in their area.

For more information about health care products, health services and caregiving, you may want to visit the Department of Health's website at: http://www. nyhealth.gov/ or the New York State Office for the Aging's website at: http://www. aging.ny.gov/.

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