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Medicare Advantage is a bundled alternative to Original Medicare that includes all the benefits of Original Medicare and often a few extras, such as cost help with dental and vision care. Medicare Advantage plans are offered by private insurers, and plan availability depends on location.
Medicare Advantage plans are a popular option for people who are eligible for Medicare: Nearly half of Medicare-eligible people are in a Medicare Advantage plan. But each plan has strengths and weaknesses. Here’s the list of Medicare Advantage plans in 2023 that got our attention. (Information is current as of December 2022.)
Best for size of network: UnitedHealthcare
Average Medicare star rating, weighted by enrollment: 4.28 out of 5.
Service area: Available in 49 states and Washington, D.C.
Standout feature: UnitedHealthcare offers the largest Medicare Advantage network of all companies, with more than 1 million network care providers.
UnitedHealthcare is the largest provider of Medicare Advantage plans and offers plans in nearly nine out of every 10 U.S. counties. UnitedHealthcare also partners with AARP, insuring the Medicare products that carry the AARP name. Many of UHC’s members are in highly rated plans, although member satisfaction ratings are lower than the industry average.
Nearly all (95%) of UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage members who are in contracts with Medicare star ratings are in contracts rated 4 stars or higher.
Members of UHC's Dual-Eligible Special Needs Plans, or D-SNPs, have access to care coordinators for complex health issues.
Most UHC plans come with comprehensive dental benefits and access to the largest Medicare Advantage dental network.
Despite being the biggest player in the industry, UnitedHealthcare had scores in J.D. Power's 2022 Medicare Advantage Study, which measured member satisfaction, below the industry average. UHC came in fourth out of nine providers measured.
UHC offers the highest-priced special needs plans in 2023, although some SNPs have $0 premiums.
Best for extra perks: Aetna
Average Medicare star rating, weighted by enrollment: 3.67 out of 5.
Service area: Available in 46 states and Washington, D.C.
Standout feature: In addition to cost help with dental, vision and hearing care, Aetna Medicare members have access to a variety of other benefits, such as in-home health visits and meal delivery after a hospital stay.
Aetna, a CVS Health company, is the fourth-largest provider of Medicare Advantage plans. Most of Aetna’s plans provide cost help with dental, vision and hearing care, and many offer other extras. Some valuable Aetna benefits include pairing you with a companion to help you run errands or drive you around, an over-the-counter benefit that lets you pick up items like vitamins and cold medications from drugstores or online at no cost and access to a consultant to help members find local resources and activities.
Aetna estimates that 84% of Medicare-eligible beneficiaries in the U.S. will have access to a $0-premium Aetna Medicare Advantage plan.
Aetna offers some of the lowest-premium stand-alone Medicare prescription drug plans nationwide.
Aetna’s Medicare Advantage prescription drug plans come with a $0 deductible on all Tier 1 drugs, and most have a $0 copay on Tier 1 drugs.
Aetna offers unique benefits to certain Medicare Advantage members, including a companionship benefit, access to online memory fitness exercises, fresh food delivery and an allowance for safety items that would prevent falls.
Weighted by enrollment, Aetna Medicare Advantage plans get an average Medicare star rating of 3.67 out of 5 stars. (The national average for all providers in 2023 is 4.15.)
Out of nine Medicare Advantage providers ranked, Aetna came in sixth overall in J.D. Power’s 2022 Medicare Advantage Study.
Best for member satisfaction: Kaiser Permanente
Average Medicare star rating, weighted by enrollment: 4.81 out of 5.
Service area: Available in eight states and Washington, D.C.
Standout feature: Kaiser stands head and shoulders above other providers in terms of the company’s Medicare star ratings, and the company tops a list of nine providers for member satisfaction.
Kaiser Permanente is the fifth-largest provider of Medicare Advantage plans, with more than 1.8 million members enrolled. Kaiser is also the largest not-for-profit health maintenance organization in the U.S., and the company uses an integrated care model, which means members can get all their care in one place and all their providers are connected.
Kaiser Permanente’s Medicare Advantage plans score above all other major Medicare Advantage providers in terms of Medicare star ratings.
Kaiser Permanente earned 844 points out of 1,000 in J.D. Power’s 2022 Medicare Advantage Study, netting it the top spot for customer satisfaction out of nine providers measured.
Only four Medicare health plans received a 5 out of 5 rating from the National Committee for Quality Assurance in 2022, and two of them are Kaiser Permanente plans.
Kaiser Permanente plans are available in only eight states and Washington, D.C., so the majority of U.S. adults can’t access them. (Kaiser sells plans in California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Oregon, Virginia and Washington state.)
Kaiser offers only HMO plans, so members must work within Kaiser’s network of medical providers.
Best for low-cost plan availability: Humana
Average Medicare star rating, weighted by enrollment: 4.35 out of 5.
Service area: Available in 49 states and Puerto Rico.
Standout feature: Humana offers $0-premium plans in 49 states and Puerto Rico, and the company estimates 69% of its members will be in a $0-premium plan in 2023.
Humana is the second-largest provider of Medicare Advantage plans, and in addition to being the most widely available, the company offers $0-premium plans in nearly every U.S. state. The company’s average Medicare star rating, weighted by enrollment, is 4.35 out of 5, and the vast majority of the plan’s members are in highly rated plans.
Humana offers plans in 91% of U.S. counties, making it an option for more Americans than any other provider.
Nearly all Humana Medicare Advantage members (98%) are in a plan rated 4 stars or higher (out of 5) by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or CMS.
In J.D. Power’s 2022 Medicare Advantage member satisfaction index, Humana ranks second out of nine major providers.
Although Humana performs well in J.D. Power’s 2022 Medicare Advantage Study, several Humana plans were ranked 3 or below (out of 5) by the National Committee for Quality Assurance.
Humana’s special needs plans aren’t as plentiful as the rest of its plans. The company's Dual-Eligible SNPs are available in 33 states, and its Chronic Condition SNPs are available in only 18 states.
Best of the Blues: Highmark
Average Medicare star rating, weighed by enrollment: 4.76 out of 5.
Service area: Available in Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Standout feature: Highmark gets high Medicare star ratings from the CMS and high customer satisfaction scores from J.D. Power.
Highmark is a member of the Blue Cross Blue Shield family, which includes 34 independent companies that together form the third-largest provider of Medicare Advantage plans. As far as Blue companies go, Highmark’s plans are highly rated and ranked for member satisfaction.
Of nine Medicare Advantage providers (including three Blue Cross Blue Shield companies), Highmark ranks third in J.D. Power’s 2022 Medicare Advantage Study, scoring 811 out of 1,000 points. It’s also the highest Blue on the list.
Weighted by enrollment, Highmark’s Medicare Advantage contracts get an average Medicare star rating of 4.76 out of 5 from the CMS.
Highmark offers Medicare Advantage plans in only four states: Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Highmark offers the highest-priced Medicare Advantage plans of all the Blues and has the smallest percentage of $0-premium plans (40%) of the bigger providers.
How to shop for Medicare Advantage plans
The right Medicare Advantage plan for you will depend on your health history, prescription medications and where you live, among other factors. Here are some strategies for selecting the best plan:
Check star ratings. The CMS collects data on Medicare Advantage plans from member surveys, the plans themselves and medical providers, and then it assigns a star rating based on the results. The star rating is on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being best.
Compare out-of-pocket costs. Each plan will have a monthly premium (many Medicare Advantage plans have no premium) and a maximum out-of-pocket cost, which is the most you’ll pay in a year for covered health care.
Keep your meds in mind. Your medications may seem like an afterthought, but make sure you investigate how each plan will cover your medications — or whether they’re covered at all.
Look for your doctors. If you’ve got a list of caregivers and medical facilities you use and prefer, look for plans that include them.
Consider the plan type. If you see specialists frequently and you don’t want to seek a referral for every office visit, a PPO plan is probably the better fit. If you’re a light health care user and see mostly your primary care physician, an HMO might be more affordable.
You can sign up for a Medicare Advantage plan when you first become eligible for Medicare (your initial enrollment period) or during designated annual Medicare enrollment periods.
For information on the Medicare Advantage plans near you, use Medicare’s plan finding tool to see what’s available.