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Will FL plans win the stars?

Will Capital Health Plan hold on to its 5-star Medicare rating this year? Will other plans make the top grade?

Health plans will find out today when the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services releases its highly anticipated plan-quality ratings.

The ratings, which use one-to-five stars to help beneficiaries distinguish plan quality, have been available since 2007, but are a new carrot in the federal healthcare overhaul. Bonuses and benefits will go to those plans that obtain top billing.

The highest-rated health plans will have fewer restrictions on advertising and will be able to enroll customers all year, not just during the annual enrollment period, said Tony Salters, CMS spokesman. They will also be eligible for $3-to-$4 billion in cash bonuses next year.

Medicare ratings are one of many factors seniors consider when choosing a medicare plan, said Andrea Gary, of Florida SHINE, which helps seniors find their best Medicare fit.

“For some people it's very important. For other people premiums are the one thing they care about,” she said. “It's really just up to the individual need."

The ratings apply to both prescription-drug plans and Medicare Advantage plans, which combine hospital, doctor and drug services in one enrollment.

Dozens of factors determine how plans are rated, including tests and preventative care offered, drug pricing and member complaints, according to the Medicare website.

Only three plans in the country were rated as five-star plans last year, according to a report from the Kaiser Health Foundation. One is in Florida: Capital Health Plan, based in Tallahassee and owned by Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Florida.

---Health News Florida is an independent online publication dedicated to public-service journalism. Reporter Brittany Alana Davis can be reached at 954-239-8968 or by e-mail.