NEVER MIND We reported last week that a group of Montgomery County doctors was urging its CareFirst patients to switch to other insurers. That advice is no longer operative.

Physician Associates had charged that CareFirst, the area's largest insurer, improperly denied claims, charged deductibles and otherwise misbehaved. The insurer challenged those assertions as "reckless, misleading and totally unfounded." The Office of Personnel Management, which looked into some of the allegations, found no evidence that CareFirst had mishandled federal workers' claims.

The upshot: A Nov. 2 letter to patients from Physician Associates, reporting "with great pleasure" that the practice and the insurer now "agree that any misunderstandings between us have been resolved. . . . Therefore, we no longer feel the need to recommend that you change your carrier." Physician Associates will remain in CareFirst's network of providers.

BREATH TEST A simple question -- Do you have trouble breathing? -- may reveal as much about someone's risk of dying as does chest pain, the most common diagnostic sign of heart disease.

Even people with no other cardiac symptoms were up to four times more likely to die of heart problems in the next few years if they had shortness of breath during a treadmill test, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Researchers reviewed the records of 17,991 patients to see if troubled breathing might predict outcomes. The patients who reported being short of breath had a higher rate of death from heart trouble or any other cause.

-- Staff Reports, News Services