HMO advertising and promotions meant to attract Medicare beneficiaries mainly target healthy senior citizens, leaving out younger disabled people who are eligible to join, a new study finds.

Nearly one-third of 21 health plan marketing seminars held for Medicare beneficiaries in New York, Miami, Los Angeles and Cleveland were not wheelchair accessible, according to the study released Monday by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.Of 70 newspaper advertisements also examined, 50 did not explicitly mention that Medicare beneficiaries of all ages are eligible to join HMOs, and eight ads incorrectly stated that beneficiaries must be 65 years old or older to join.

None of the pictures used in the print or 27 television ads that were examined showed people using wheelchairs or walkers. Instead, most of the ads showed healthy senior citizens doing activities such as biking or swimming.

The study was conducted for Kaiser by Porter Novelli and looked at health plan marketing in the four cities from Jan. 1 to March 31, 1997.

More than 5 million of Medicare's 38 million beneficiaries are younger than 65 and eligible for the government insurance program because of a disability.

HMOs that enroll Medicare beneficiaries get a fixed payment from the government for each patient, regardless of how much health care they need.

Past studies have shown that the private health plans reap a windfall from the government, partly because they tend to attract beneficiaries who are healthier than those who stay with traditional Medicare, in which the government directly pays each medical bill.