People over 65 are the fastest-growing population segment in the country, and health and financial issues are among their major concerns.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, in cooperation with the American Council of Life Insurance and the Health Insurance Association of America, offers a helpful 21-page booklet called "Health Care and Finances: A Guide for Adult Children and Their Parents" (item 441X, 50 cents).For a copy send your name and address and 50 cents to the Consumer Information Center, Department 441X, Pueblo, CO 81009.

If your parents are working and healthy, it may seem strange to discuss health care with them. Nevertheless, the time may come when they are no longer able to care for themselves. Health-care options for older people can be confusing.

Many people who retire before age 65 may be able to continue their employer-sponsored health insurance coverage. This may be especially helpful if your parent has a medical condition that would make qualifying for new health insurance difficult.

Whether they are retired or not, make sure your parents understand their Medicare coverage. Medicare offers two-part health insurance for the elderly. Your parents are eligible for Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) if they have sufficient Social Security work credits when they reach 65. If they plan to work past age 65, they must still file an application for Part A coverage with their local Social Security office about three months before reaching retirement age.

Medicare Part B (medical insurance for doctors' charges in and out of the hospital) is optional insurance for which your parents must pay a monthly premium.

Medicare can't pay for all health-care services, so it is often advisable to buy Medicare supplement or Medigap insurance policies to cover expenses not paid by Medicare.

Medigap policies are available through commercial insurance companies and differ in cost and coverage. Before buying one, examine all offered policies with your parents to be sure the features most important to all of you are included. Compare commercial policies with Medicare, too. That way you can be sure you don't pay for duplicate benefits.

If your parents are eligible for Medicaid - a program to help pay medical bills for low-income people - they probably won't need supplemental insurance to meet their health-care needs.

Neither Medicare nor Medigap policies cover long-term care costs, either at home or in a nursing home. If you consider buying a long-term insurance policy to meet these expenses, weigh the cost of the policy against the amount it will pay and the cost of long-term care in your area.