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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 different strengths and weaknesses. Here’s the list of Medicare Advantage plans in 2022 that got our attention. (Information is current as of September 2022.)
Best for size of network: UnitedHealthcare
Average Medicare star rating: 4.2 out of 5.
Service area: Available in 50 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 three-quarters of 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 those of several other providers.
Nearly all (95%) of UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage members who are in contracts with Medicare star ratings are in contracts rated 4 stars or higher.
UHC offers members the chance to work with expert advocates if they have care questions, as well as care coordinators for complex health issues.
Despite being a big player in the industry, UnitedHealthcare’s scores in J.D. Power's 2021 Medicare Advantage Study, which measured member satisfaction, were lower than the industry average. UHC tied for sixth out of nine providers measured.
Best for extra perks: Aetna
Average Medicare star rating: 3.8 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 companionship benefits in eight states, an over-the-counter benefit that lets you pick up things like vitamins and cold medications from drugstores or online at no cost, and concierge services 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.
As a CVS Health company, Aetna offers members the ability to visit one of a network of walk-in clinics or MinuteClinics for the same copay as a regular visit to a primary care physician, or PCP, as long as they’re in plans that don’t require a PCP visit. This network includes walk-in locations across 33 states and Washington, D.C.
Aetna Medicare Advantage plans get an average Medicare star rating of 3.8 out of 5 stars. (The national average for all providers in 2022 is 4.37.)
Out of nine Medicare Advantage providers ranked, Aetna tied for sixth overall in J.D. Power’s 2021 Medicare Advantage Study.
Aetna offers only health maintenance organization or preferred provider organization plans — also known as HMOs and PPOs — along with special needs plans, or SNPs. Members don’t have the option of private fee-for-service or medical savings account plans.
Best for member satisfaction: Kaiser Permanente
Average Medicare star rating: 5 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 about 1.8 million members enrolled in 2022. 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 plans are available in only eight states and Washington, D.C.
Kaiser Permanente earned 846 points out of 1,000 in J.D. Power’s 2021 U.S. Medicare Advantage Study, netting it the top spot for customer satisfaction out of nine providers measured.
Only seven Medicare health plans received a 5 out of 5 rating from the National Committee for Quality Assurance, and four of them are Kaiser Permanente plans.
Kaiser Permanente plans are available only in 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: 4.1 out of 5.
Service area: Available in 47 states and Puerto Rico.
Standout feature: Humana offers $0-premium plans in 47 states and Puerto Rico, and the company estimates that more than half of its members are in a $0-premium plan.
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 is 4.1 out of 5, and the vast majority of the plan’s members are in highly rated plans.
Humana offers plans in 85% of U.S. counties, making it an option for more Americans than any other provider.
More than nine out of 10 existing 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.
Humana plans offer access to the Humana Pharmacy mail delivery service, which tops the list in customer satisfaction for the fourth year in a row, according to J.D. Power.
Humana comes in only slightly above the industry average in J.D. Power’s 2021 Medicare Advantage Study, and several 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 29 states, and its Chronic Condition SNPs are available in only 15 states.
Best of the Blues: Highmark
Average Medicare star rating: 4.8 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 35 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 second in J.D. Power’s 2021 U.S. Medicare Advantage Study, scoring 834 out of 1,000 points. It’s also the highest Blue on the list.
Highmark’s Medicare Advantage contracts get an average Medicare star rating of 4.8 out of 5 from the CMS.
Highmark offers Medicare Advantage plans in only four states: Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Highmark Medicare Advantage offers only HMO and PPO plans. There are no special needs plans for people with certain diseases or chronic conditions.
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 things. 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 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.