The National Consumer's Union says the impact of increased Medicare premiums and taxes will be offset by meaningful new protection for those buying supplemental "Medigap" insurance.

Since 1965, when Medicare was established, "consumers have complained bitterly about sharp sales practices, rip-off policies and skyrocketing rates," said Gail Shearer, a Consumer's Union executive.The Medigap private insurance market was intended to help fill gaps in Medicare health insurance coverage for the elderly. But Ms. Shearer said it has left consumers "confused and overwhelmed."

"They waste money on unnecessary coverage, cannot tell a good policy from a bad one and often have no one to turn to except the insurance agent for advice," she said.

The Consumers Union said the new curbs on "Medigap" include:

- Requirements that companies package insurance benefits in similar fashion, allowing older people to compare policies.

- Establishment of state and local counseling programs to help the elderly make the best insurance coverage decisions.

- Requirements that private insurance companies pay more in benefits.

Companies had been encouraged to pay out 60 percent on premiums collected. Now they will be required to pay out 65 percent.

- Forbidding the sale of duplicative and unnecessary policies.