By GORDON L. DAVIS

Kansas Senior Press Service

Although Medicare pays for a large part of your health care expenses, it does not pay for all of them. Medicare is a federal health insurance program for people 65 and older and for people with permanent kidney failure or certain disabilities. It is administered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), a federal agency.

Medicare was never intended to pay 100 percent of medical bills, but it does form the foundation for protection against heavy medical expenses. There are gaps in Medicare coverage where the beneficiary must pay a portion of expenses. Medicare supplemental insurance, also called "Medigap," can help cover these expenses.

The Kansas Insurance Department regulates this type of plan and publishes an excellent tool, the "Kansas Medicare Supplement Insurance Shopper's Guide," to help you evaluate health care insurance needs and gather accurate information concerning Medicare and other health insurance options. With that information, you can make decisions that can prevent serious, costly problems.

The 25-page publication, revised in March, explains choices in Medicare supplemental insurance and includes rate comparisons among companies selling Medicare supplemental insurance. For the most recent figures, visit the Kansas Insurance Department Web site, www.ksinsurance.org.

The publication also explains Medicare is divided into four parts: hospital insurance (Part A), medical insurance (Part B), Medicare Advantage plans (Part C), and Medicare prescription drug coverage (Part D). Medicare recipients are responsible for paying uncovered medical expenses (those "gaps" referred to earlier). Items and services not covered under Medicare are highlighted in the book.

The book complements "2008 Choosing a Medigap Policy: A Guide to Health Insurance for People with Medicare," which provides information about supplemental insurance. That 56-page publication is provided by CMS and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and is available at www.medicare.gov or by calling (800) 633-4227.

The Kansas Medicare Supplement Insurance Shopper's Guide may be downloaded to your computer from the publications page of the Kansas Insurance Department Web site, HYPERLINK "http://www.ksinsurance.org" www.ksinsurance.org, ordered online, or ordered by calling 800-432-2484 (in Kansas only). The free publication will be mailed to your home.

If you have questions or need assistance understanding Medicare issues, contact the Kansas Insurance Department's toll-free consumer assistance hotline, 800-432-2484.

Medicare Advantage plans and Medicare prescription drug coverage are also regulated by CMS. If you have questions about either program, contact Senior Health Insurance Counseling for Kansas (SHICK) at 800-860-5260 or the Kansas Insurance Department's consumer assistance hotline number.

SHICK, which is administered by the Kansas Department on Aging, provides Medicare and supplemental insurance counseling through a network of volunteers statewide. All services are free.

Gordon L. Davis is an aging information specialist with Johnson County Human Services & Aging.