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Gas prices fall for 5th straight week

For the fifth straight week, average retail gasoline prices have dropped nationwide, falling below $2.40 a gallon for the first time since early August.

The federal Energy Information Administration said Monday that U.S. motorists paid $2.376 cents a gallon on average for regular grade last week, a decline of more than 10 cents from the previous week. Pump prices are still 38 cents higher than a year ago.

Average retail prices peaked at $3.07 a gallon in early September, a reflection of the extreme tightness in the market following Hurricane Katrina, which knocked out refineries in the Gulf region, as well as pipelines that deliver fuel to the East Coast and Midwest. Prices have since retreated because of the recovery of oil production and refining facilities, increased imports from Europe and a slight reduction in demand.

Gasoline prices were most expensive last week on the West Coast, averaging $2.623 per gallon, and cheapest in the Midwest, averaging $2.231 per gallon.

Medicare Web site offers drug plan help

The federal government on Monday unveiled a computer program designed to help Medicare beneficiaries figure out which prescription drug plan best meets their needs.

Medicare will include a drug benefit beginning Jan. 1, but some advocacy groups fear the myriad choices and the program’s complexities could discourage the nation’s elderly and disabled from enrolling.

The new program on Medicare’s Web site will allow beneficiaries to plug in such information as the type of drugs they take and how much of a monthly premium or deductible they would be willing to pay. The program will then sort through the plans offered in their communities and list those that meet the beneficiaries’ criteria. Estimates of annual cost are also included.

Shock jock Stern suspended for one day

New York Howard Stern got a one-day suspension Monday after heavily promoting his move to satellite radio.

“We expect him back on Wednesday,” said Karen Mateo, a spokeswoman for Infinity Broadcasting Corp., which carries Stern’s syndicated show in more than 20 markets. Infinity is a unit of media giant Viacom Inc.

She wouldn’t call Stern’s absence a suspension and declined to comment further. Listeners will hear a compilation of Stern’s best shows today, she said.

But Stern’s spokesman Matt Traub confirmed the shock jock had been suspended, adding: “This is an act of desperation by men who are losing their once-in-a-lifetime franchise.”

The action was first reported on the Howard 100 channel carried by Sirius Satellite Radio Inc., where Stern is moving his show next year.

Sirius spokesman Patrick Reilly declined to comment Monday.


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