Although Congress decided last year to raise the Medicare premium and deductible for doctors' services, the lawmakers passed tough legislation to protect the 24 million older Americans who buy Medicare supplement, or "Medigap," policies.

By August 1992, notes Changing Times, the Kiplinger Magazine, newly offered policies must conform to certain standards:- Standardized format and terminology. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) will establish up to 10 different benefit packages, one of which, a collection of basic benefits, all insurers must offer if they sell Medigap policies. The standard packages will make it easier to compare and choose policies.

- Penalties. Agents or mail order companies who knowingly sell a Medigap policy to someone who already has one and intends to keep it will face penalties. According to James Firman, president of the United Seniors Health Cooperative, 25 percent of those with Medigap policies have more than one, and the extra is "almost always a waste of money."

- Guaranteed renewability. Insurers cannot cancel or refuse to renew your policy because of your health or for any reason other than unpaid premiums or misrepresentation.

- Limits on agents' commissions. The first year's commission is limited to 200 percent of the second year's commission, and subsequent years' commissions are limited to that of the second year. This is aimed at discouraging attempts to sell retirees new policies each year.

- Minimum payouts. At least 65 cents of every premium dollar must be paid out in benefits to policyholders.