The retail prices of the 50 pharmaceutical products most prescribed to the elderly increased almost three times the rate of inflation last year, says a Families USA study. Prices for the medications jumped 7.8 percent, compared to the 2.8 percent rise (energy costs excluded) in the Consumer Price Index.... The New York State Department of Insurance leveled stiff penalities against Aetna U.S. Healthcare and United Healthcare over the plans' failure to inform members properly about how to appeal claim denials. Aetna was fined $1.5 million; United $1 million, and both have promised to reexamine claims that had been denied between mid-1994 and late 2001.... Poor publicity resulting from stories about denied appeals and other high-profile mistakes made by managed care organizations has led the American Association of Health Plans to hire the William Morris talent agency to help improve the industry's image in TV and movies. The AAHP wants to counter the negative image of the industry that's become part of popular culture, though organization officials doubt that there will be an overnight turnaround.... One good way to start such a public relations effort may be to get the word out about a new program by Blue Shield of California. On July 8, the insurer launched a health plan for Mexican migrant workers and their families. Jim Arriola, head of cross-border operations for Blue Shield, tells the Contra Costa Times that the plan will "provide better access to care for a segment of our society that is encountering a lot of challenges and difficulties in the health care system."