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In the next few weeks, elderly and disabled Americans can expect to find a new government guidebook in their mailboxes, meant to help them unravel the complexities of Medicare.

"The purpose is to help Medicare beneficiaries make more informed health-care decisions," said Medicare's director of beneficiary services, Carol Cronin.

In the past, similar Medicare reference books have been sent to senior citizens only once -- when they first become eligible for the national health insurance program at age 65 -- or upon request.

For the first time, the guidebooks will come in 26 different regional editions, offering specific information about the private health plans open to Medicare beneficiaries in each state.

Last year, a test mailing of the books reached 5 million households in five states. The new mailing will go to 32 million households in an attempt to reach all 39 million Medicare beneficiaries nationwide.

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