NU Online News Service, Dec. 27, 12:55 p.m. – AARP, Washington, says it is postponing the enrollment deadline for its AARP Health Care Options Program to Feb. 28, 2002, from Dec. 31, to give AARP members more time to decide what to do about health coverage.

The program sells guaranteed issue Medicare supplement insurance, or “Medigap” coverage, underwritten by a unit of UnitedHealth Group Inc., Minnetonka, Minn.

Many older Americans use the AARP Medigap program as an alternative to the troubled Medicare health maintenance organization programs. Private health insurers were enthusiastic about the program in the mid-1990s, but they have since retrenched because of problems with higher-than-expected costs and lower-than-expected government reimbursement rates.

Because the AARP Medigap program is extending its deadline, Medicare HMO program members who lose coverage Dec. 31 will have at least two months to join the AARP Medigap program, AARP says.

Consumers who join the AARP Medigap program by Feb. 28, 2002, can buy Medigap plans A through G without any pre-existing condition exclusions and withithout any health questions to answer, AARP says.

Consumers who drop out of the Medicare HMO program between Jan. 1, 2002, and Feb. 28, 2002, will have 63 days from the disenrollment date to apply for the guaranteed-issue AARP Medigap coverage, AARP says.