Aetna vs. Cigna

Cigna is the best provider for private individual health plans

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The majority of Americans have some type of health insurance, which covers the cost of preventative care and certain medical treatments. Health insurance can be purchased through your employer, your state’s insurance marketplace, or a private insurance company. When you’re shopping for health insurance, it’s important to look at the plan types, coverage limits, average premiums, and network size for each provider. 

Two of the biggest names in health insurance are Aetna and Cigna. We compared the two to see which provider is best. Overall, we recommend Aetna if you qualify for Medicare, and recommend Cigna if you’re shopping for an individual or family plan. However, Cigna only offers private plans in 10 states, whereas Aetna offers Medicare coverage nationwide.

Aetna vs. Cigna: Which Should You Choose?

Aetna


Aetna

Aetna

Pros
  • Aetna offers $0 premium Medicare part A plans with a $0 deductible

  • Easy to get a quote and enroll in a Medicare plan online

  • Good dental insurance plans with a large network of 120,000 providers

Cons
  • Private individual and family policies are not available

  • J.D. Power rates Aetna’s Medicare Advantage plans below average for overall customer satisfaction

Cigna


Cigna

 Cigna

Pros
  • Affordable dental coverage with plans starting at $19 per month

  • Website has a live chat feature for real-time customer service

  • Cigna sells a number of unique supplemental plans for more coverage

Cons
  • Private health insurance plans are only available in 10 states

  • Poor customer reviews citing denied claims and slow claim payouts

At a Glance

  Aetna Cigna 
Policy Types  Medicare, HMO, PPO, HMO-POS, HSA, FSA, POS, CDHP, EPO, Medicaid, Indemnity, Open Access Medicare, HMO, PPO, EPO, HMO-POS, HSA, FSA, POS, CDHP, EPO, HRA, Medicaid, Indemnity, Open Access
Availability  Nationwide  10 states (for private plans) 
Coverage Limit  Varies by state/plan Varies by state/plan 
Deductible  Varies by state/plan  Varies by state/plan 
Maximum Annual Benefit  Varies by state/plan  Varies by state/plan 
Waiting Period  Varies by state/plan  Varies by state/plan 
Providers In-Network  1.2 million  1.5 million 
Covers Telehealth  Yes  Yes 
Policy Management  Mobile app, website, phone  Mobile app, website, phone 

Aetna vs. Cigna: Policy Types

In terms of policy types, Aetna and Cigna offer a similar lineup. You can get an HMO, PPO, EPO, HSA, FSA, Indemnity, or Open Access plan, plus a few others. Keep in mind that the exact plans and covered services will vary based on your location. 

One important distinction to make is that Aetna doesn’t sell individual health insurance policies. The company primarily offers Medicare and Medicaid plans, which are government-funded programs with subsidized premiums. If you’re looking for private insurance for you and your family, Cigna is a better option. 

In addition to medical insurance, Aetna and Cigna both sell vision insurance and dental insurance plans. Both dental plans cover 100% of preventive care services and you can easily get a quote and purchase a policy online. 

Cigna’s dental insurance plan gives you access to a network of more than 93,000 dentists and specialists, with three plans available starting at just $19 per month. Aetna’s Dental Direct plan has two policies available with rates starting at $22 per month. Aetna’s network is slightly larger, with 120,000 dental providers.

Aetna vs. Cigna: Cost 

Health insurance premiums are personalized for every individual. Your age, location, plan type, coverage limit, deductible, and the insurance company you work with can all impact the cost of health insurance. If you’re looking for a low rate, your best option is to choose a high-deductible policy. 

If you qualify for Medicare, you may be able to get a $0 premium for Medicare Part A (hospital coverage) through Aetna. Some policies also have a $0 deductible. However, that doesn’t mean you can get free coverage. You usually have to pay for Medicare Part B, which covers important services like screenings and exams, as well as prescriptions.

If you choose to get a private health insurance plan from Cigna, the costs can vary more significantly. To give you a sense of what you might pay, we got sample quotes for a 40-year-old woman in good health and who doesn’t smoke. Here are the cheapest rates we received in three states where Cigna offers coverage:

  Monthly Premium Deductible  Maximum Out-of-Pocket Cost 
Cigna - Arizona  $347 $8,550 $8,550
Cigna - Florida  $395  $8,550  $8,550 
Cigna - Utah  $359  $7,000  $8,550 

You can get an instant quote from Cigna or Aetna by completing the application on their websites. You can also get a quote by visiting your state’s insurance marketplace to see which policies Cigna and Aetna offer with premium tax credits

Aetna vs. Cigna: Coverage Limits

Aetna and Cigna both offer health insurance plans that have high coverage limits. However, the out-of-pocket maximum and the annual maximum benefit will depend on the type of plan you get. 

Below, we’ve included some of Aetna’s Medicare plans that are available in California, along with the out-of-pocket maximum:

  • Aetna Medicare Plus HMO: $3,400 out-of-pocket maximum
  • Aetna Medicare Elite PPO: $7,550 out-of-pocket maximum
  • Aetna Medicare Explorer PPO: $6,700 out-of-pocket maximum

Cigna, on the other hand, offers tiered health insurance coverage with Bronze, Silver, and Gold plans that come with increasing levels of coverage. Here are a few private health insurance plans from Cigna that are available in Missouri, and their out-of-pocket maximum:

  • Cigna Connect 7300 EPO (Silver): $7,300 out-of-pocket maximum
  • Cigna Connect 8550 EPO (Bronze): $8,550 out-of-pocket maximum
  • Cigna Connect 1000 EPO (Gold): $7,000 out-of-pocket maximum

Aetna vs. Cigna: Availability

Aetna sells Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. However, Cigna has limited availability. You can only purchase private individual health insurance plans from Cigna in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and Virginia.

Aetna vs. Cigna: Policy Management

Overall, Aetna and Cigna have good policy management tools in place. Both companies have a robust online customer portal, as well as a free mobile app for Android and iOS devices.

Cigna customers can use the myCigna mobile app to find in-network doctors, view and track claims, manage spending account balances, get cost estimates for procedures, and download ID cards. The Aetna Health app has most of the same features, but you can also make payments, which Cigna doesn’t offer.

If you need to get in touch with either company, you can call the main number during business hours or send a message via the online form. Cigna also has a live chat feature if you create an account. 

Aetna vs. Cigna: Policyholder Experience

When comparing Aetna and Cigna, we looked at online customer reviews across several different sites to gauge the overall policyholder experience. Ultimately, both companies had a number of negative reviews, with many policyholders complaining about poor claim handling, misleading prices, and discrepancies around covered services.

If you’re thinking about buying a Medicare plan from Aetna, also consider that the company was rated below average in the J.D. Power 2020 U.S. Medicare Advantage Study, which ranks insurance companies that offer Medicare Advantage plans based on cost, coverage, customer service, and other factors. 

Aetna vs. Cigna: Enrollment Process

In order to purchase a health insurance plan from Aetna or Cigna, you must do so during the annual open enrollment period. You can fill out the application online and, in most cases, purchase a plan on the spot.

If you need to get coverage outside the open enrollment window, you can get a policy if you have experienced a qualifying life event. Some examples are having a baby, getting divorced, losing coverage through your parents, losing coverage through an employer, and moving to a new state. Be prepared to provide documents that verify your qualifying life event when you apply.

For Medicare, you can apply for coverage during the special open enrollment period and, if you're already receiving Social Security benefits, you won’t need to verify your eligibility. But if you are applying for Medicare under age 65 due to a disability, you might be asked to provide medical documentation that proves you qualify.  

Frequently Asked Questions

When Can I Enroll in an Aetna or Cigna Health Insurance Policy? 

You can enroll in a health insurance plan from Cigna or Aetna during the open enrollment periods. For Medicare, the annual open enrollment period is typically between January 1 and March 31. For private individual coverage, the open enrollment period is different in every state, but it usually takes place around November 1 to December 15.

However, you are allowed to purchase health insurance outside of the open enrollment period if you have experienced a qualifying life event. Some examples include giving birth, getting divorced, or moving out of state.

Is It Worth Buying Private Health Insurance Through Aetna or Cigna? 

Everyone has different health insurance needs, so purchasing private health insurance through Aetna or Cigna may or may not be the right choice for you.

If you care about getting the most affordable coverage, then purchasing health insurance through your employer is going to be the best option. Private health insurance is usually much more expensive than group health insurance. Other low-cost health insurance alternatives include HSAs or FSAs, which are health savings accounts that can help you pay for certain medical costs.

However, keep in mind that group health insurance limits the type and amount of coverage you can get. If you want a bigger range of plan options, it’s worth seeing what private insurance plans you can get through your state's marketplace or a provider like Cigna. If you’re shopping for Medicare, getting insurance through your state’s marketplace is your only option. 

Forgoing private health insurance to avoid the premium might be tempting, but keep in mind that some states can impose tax penalties if you’re uninsured. Plus, being uninsured means that you’re responsible for all of your healthcare costs, which can be incredibly expensive.

What Type of Health Insurance Plan Should I Get? 

The best health insurance plan is different for everyone. It depends on your budget, your dependents, your overall level of health, and how frequently you visit the doctor. Three popular health insurance plans that Aetna and Cigna offer are HMO, PPO, and EPO plans. Here’s what they cover:

  • HMO plan: Your plan is only valid with in-network providers, and you usually need a referral to see specialists. However, emergency services are still covered if you visit an out-of-network hospital.
  • PPO plan: This plan allows you to visit any provider you want, regardless of whether they are in-network or out-of-network. However, the premiums tend to be higher than a PPO plan.
  • EPO plan: Like an HMO, an EPO plan only allows you to see providers in-network, but you can typically see a specialist without a referral. The premiums for this type of coverage are generally affordable. 

If you want the biggest selection of providers, a PPO plan is your best option, but you’ll pay a slightly higher premium. HMO plans are a good option if you visit the doctor infrequently and want a lower-cost plan. An EPO plan might be the right choice if you don’t want to overpay for coverage, but you want the flexibility to see specialists if needed.

Methodology

We compared Aetna and Cigna by reviewing the plan types, coverage amounts, average premiums, policy management tools, and enrollment processes for both providers. We also looked at network size and availability. Lastly, we looked into the customer reviews and third-party ratings for Aetna and Cigna to get a better sense of the overall customer experience.

Article Sources

Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. J.D. Power. "Medicare Advantage Plans Struggle to Communicate Effectively With Members, J.D. Power Finds." Accessed June 22, 2021.

  2. Medicare.gov. "Don’t Wait: Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Ends March 31." Accessed June 22, 2021.