Which are the best health insurance companies in the United States? It's hard to know how to even begin sorting through the multiple options when your employer offers a choice of health plans or you need to select a private health insurance policy.
We've done some of the legwork for you by examining which health insurance companies in the U.S. are ranked highest on such factors as prevention, treatment, and customer satisfaction. We selected 9 companies that have a wide range of available products, including national providers and a few highly-rated regional companies.
To find the best policies for you and your family, you can start by entering your zip code and then other information at the companies' websites. You will be directed to the policies available in your area that are appropriate for your circumstances, at which point you can compare local physician, hospital, and pharmacy choices. You can also find the combination of premium, deductible, and other out-of-pocket expenses that is the best option for you.
Best Health Insurance Companies
- Best for Medicare Advantage: Aetna
- Best for Nationwide Coverage: Blue Cross Blue Shield
- Best for Global Coverage: Cigna
- Best for Umbrella Coverage: Humana
- Best for HMOs: Kaiser Foundation Health Plan
- Best for the Tech Savvy: United Healthcare
- Best for the Midwest: HealthPartners
- Best for New England: Harvard Pilgrim
- Best for New York: Capital District Physicians' Health Plan
Best for Medicare Advantage : Aetna
An impressive 43 Aetna Medicare Advantage plans sold in 37 states, plus the District of Columbia, received top NCQA ratings in 2019, with Connecticut and Maine being standouts. In 2020, Aetna Medicare Advantage plans were made available in 264 new counties across the country, providing millions more Medicare beneficiaries access to an Aetna plan. The insurer also sells Medicare supplement plans (Medigap) and prescription drug plans in most U.S. markets (43 states) as well as a combination dental, vision, and hearing supplemental Medicare product in many states.
In the private arena, Aetna is a large provider of employer-based health insurance. A total of 4 Aetna plans serving Idaho, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Wyoming made the top NCQA ranks in 2019, and the 2020 J.D. Power U.S. Commercial Health Plan Study highly ranked the Ohio and Virginia Aetna plans. In addition, Aetna's pricing seems to be at a lower level than many competitors.
In November 2018, Aetna became part of CVS Health Company, and synergies between the two are beginning to emerge. For example, Aetna medical plan subscribers with high blood pressure can get a free home monitor at CVS. Chronic disease monitoring may also be available at CVS stores.
Best for Nationwide Coverage : Blue Cross Blue Shield
One out of 3 Americans has health coverage from Blue Cross Blue Shield. The names on various state plans include Anthem, Independence, Hawaii Medical Service, Highmark, and Wellmark, but the 36 independent and locally operated Blue Cross Blue Shield companies open doors in all 50 states. Nationwide, more than 90% of doctors and hospitals contract with Blue Cross Blue Shield companies—more than any other insurer.
In 2019, more than 40 Blue Cross Blue Shield company plans earned moderate to high ratings from NCQA based on clinical quality and member satisfaction, while 10 Anthem plans—including some with lower overall ratings—scored impressively in the customer satisfaction area. The Blues offer employer insurance, individual policies on healthcare.gov, and a variety of Medicare plans (Medigap, Prescription Drugs Part D, and Medicare Advantage).
Best for Global Coverage : Cigna
It's not surprising that a company that sells a product called Expatriates Insurance would lead our list for international coverage. This global health service company has 17 million medical customers worldwide served by a global network of 1.5 million healthcare professionals with access to doctors in 30+ countries. It has more than 70,000 employees. Cigna followed on the heels of Aetna and CVS Health in 2018 by partnering with Express Scripts, the nation's largest pharmacy benefit manager, in a deal aimed at lowering costs and improving care.
In the U.S., 4 private Cigna plans were top-rated in NCQA. Although Cigna was a top performer in customer satisfaction in the Southwest U.S., according to the 2020 J.D. Power survey, it was ranked among the worst in its industry for member satisfaction by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) in 2020. Cigna sells medical plans in 10 states and dental plans in all 50, plus D.C. It sells individual plans on healthcare.gov in 19 markets across 10 states. Cigna also expanded its Medicare Advantage plans to reach a total of 369 counties across 23 states, adding coverage in 5 new states for 2021.
Best for Umbrella Coverage : Humana
Health insurance policies don't usually cover such expenses as eyeglasses and contacts; or dental exams, crowns, and appliances. Humana, a broad-based health and well-being company, sells private policies in all these areas, and the company has a range of plans for people living with chronic conditions that include transitions from a hospital stay to home care and meal delivery. Humana is also among the companies that offer special needs policies for people with a severe or disabling chronic condition or living in an institution. As of 2018, Humana no longer offers individual medical plans but focuses on healthcare solutions for employers.
Four private Humana plans (Kansas/Missouri, Wisconsin, 2 in Illinois) and 3 Humana Medicare Advantage plans (Florida, Illinois, Tennessee) were highly-rated by NCQA. Humana led the pack for customer satisfaction among health insurers in 2020, according to data from the ACSI survey. Humana's policies for HMOs are relatively affordable.
Best for HMOs : Kaiser Foundation Health Plan
The nonprofit insurer Kaiser Foundation Health Plan won stellar ratings for private insurance, with 1 plan (Mid-Atlantic States) getting a top overall NCQA score of 5.0 and 7 other plans, ranging from Georgia to California, winning 4.0 to 4.5 ratings. In the Medicare Advantage arena, Kaiser was also a winner with 8 plans in the very top echelons. The company operates in 8 states (California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Oregon, Virginia, Washington) and Washington, D.C.
All of Kaiser's highly rated private and Medicare Advantage plans are HMOs. This is good news for those needing budget health insurance because HMOs have lower premiums, no deductibles, and lower copays and prescription drug costs. The downside to an HMO is the stipulation that—except in emergencies—you must use only doctors, hospitals, and other services that are in the network. The plans do, however, deliver the same essential goods as a PPO plan. Kaiser's policies have relatively low premiums.
Best for the Tech Savvy : United Healthcare
Want to track your health on an Apple Watch? File claims, set up doctor appointments, and find doctors online? United Healthcare's latest annual survey found that 37% of consumers shop for health care on a computer or with mobile apps. The company is pushing "consumer-driven digital health care," which includes wearable technology for glucose management, smart baby monitors for high-risk infants, and activity trackers that allow fitness participants to win monetary awards.
Two private United Healthcare plans (both in Rhode Island) scored an impressive 4.5, while 11 plans in 5 states (Iowa, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Wisconsin) scored 4.0 in overall NCQA ratings. An impressive 34 of its Medicare Advantage plans were highly rated, including several sold under the name Sierra Health and Life Insurance Company.
United offers the full spectrum of health benefit programs for individuals, employers, and Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. It contracts directly with more than 1.3 million physicians and care professionals as well as 6,500 hospitals and other care facilities nationwide. Both HMO and PPO plans are available with access to health savings accounts (HSAs) and flexible spending accounts (FSAs). Its polices may cost a bit more than some of its competitors, but it may be worth it for the extra features.
Best for the Midwest : HealthPartners
Best for New England : Harvard Pilgrim
This New England not-for-profit company has 4.5-rated plans in 2 states (Maine, Massachusetts), 1 of which also scored an impressive 4.5 on prevention, and a 4.0-rated plan in New Hampshire. The Harvard Pilgrim Choice Plus and Options PPO plans are offered jointly by Harvard Pilgrim and UnitedHealthcare, allowing members access to a network of half a million doctors nationwide, thousands of hospitals, and flexible health benefits.
Best for New York : Capital District Physicians' Health Plan
This not-for-profit, physician-directed health plan has some of the highest rated plans in the business. Two plans garnered a 5.0 in overall score from NCQA, and were among the 6 private plans nationally that scored 5.0 in consumer satisfaction. A third plan from CDPHP came in near the top at 4.5, and the company's Medicare Advantage plan was also a high scorer. The plans are available in 29 of New York's 62 counties. The company notes that 8 out of its 15 board members are practicing physicians.
What Does Health Insurance Cover?
You will find that health insurance coverage ranges pretty widely from one insurance provider to the next, and even between the individual plans offered by a provider. But while your exact options vary, there are some mandatory coverage standards that every health insurance policy must provide.
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, there are 10 categories of health services that all healtcare.gov insurance plans are required to cover, called Essential Health Benefits. These include pregnancy and childbirth services, prescription drug coverage, mental health services, outpatient hospital care, preventative care, emergency services, and more. Plans must also provide dental coverage to minors (adult dental coverage is optional).
The exact details and limits of this coverage may differ from one state to the next. Also, large companies that self-insure employees are not required to follow these same standards, though many still do. You’ll want to check with your employer’s plan to see exactly what is covered if you are offered health insurance through your job.
Is Health Insurance Required?
When the Affordable Care Act was first passed, it included a health insurance mandate; if you could afford adequate health insurance (“minimum essential coverage”) throughout the year but chose not to purchase it, you were required to pay a penalty fee. This fee was usually charged when it came time to file that year’s taxes and was imposed on everyone in your household who did not meet the minimum healthcare requirements.
Beginning with the 2019 plan year, however, this penalty—called the Shared Responsibility Payment—was reversed on a federal level. You are no longer responsible for this fee if you choose not to carry minimum coverage, and no exemption is necessary to avoid the penalty.
However, there are some states that still have their own health insurance coverage requirements. Be sure to check the laws in your state of residence to see what level of insurance you’re required to carry and what penalties, if any, apply for not meeting these minimum standards.
How to Determine the Best Health Insurance Plan?
Buying health insurance can be an arduous and confusing process, especially when there are so many options and costs to consider.
There are a few questions to ask yourself if you want to make the search a bit easier. They include:
- Does my employer offer coverage or will I need to shop the Health Insurance Marketplace? A workplace plan, if offered, may be more affordable than buying a private plan.
- How often do I anticipate using my coverage? If you only see the doctor for routine/preventative care, you’ll need a very different plan than someone who has a chronic condition or a child with special needs.
- What sort of costs can I expect to encounter? You typically have 2 options to choose from: a high deductible or higher premiums. If you don’t expect to use your coverage much—and can afford the out-of-pocket cost if you do wind up needing serious care—a plan with a high deductible can save you money all year long. On the other hand, if you and your family are at the doctor’s office often, paying a bit more for premiums in exchange for a lower cost-share/deductible may be the less painful option.
- Will I be able to see my same doctor(s)? If you enjoy seeing your current providers, you’ll want to make sure that they accept your new plan before switching, or you’ll need to find new doctors.
- What if I need emergency care (especially when traveling)? Be sure to read the fine print and coverage options before picking a plan, particularly if you’re often in other states. Some plans have stricter guidelines than others when it comes to seeking care while away from home.
Depending on whether you are choosing an employer-based plan or shopping on the Marketplace, you may also want to compare PPO vs. HMO options. You should also consider whether you need a plan that also provides dental and/or vision coverage.
How Much Does Health Insurance Cost?
As with any insurance product, there are countless personal factors that go into calculating your cost for coverage. When it comes to health insurance premiums, you also have to take into account the difference between employer-sponsored plans and those purchased on the Marketplace, the difference between coverage for a single person and that for a family, and whether your income qualifies you for a tax credit on your Marketplace plan premiums.
There are a few factors that go into calculating your health insurance cost across the board, though. These include your age, gender, location, personal and family health history, and whether or not you’re a tobacco user.
For instance, whether you’re buying an employer-sponsored plan or one on the Marketplace, you can expect your premiums to go up by as much as 50% if you smoke or vape. When you consider that annual healthcare premiums are already an average of about $7,188 for single folks and $20,576 for families, an extra 50% could feel significant.
How We Chose the Best Health Insurance Companies
We examined the 126 health insurance plans that were top-rated by NCQA, the National Committee for Quality Assurance, a non-profit rating group, and aggregated them by insurance company. We then narrowed the list to companies that had highly rated plans available in multiple states. To make the best list, the company also had to have at least an A- financial rating from AM Best, Fitch, or Standard & Poor's.
We then took a qualitative look at our 9 highly rated companies to identify special strengths that might appeal to the priorities of different types of consumers. We examined how the companies were rated in NCQA subcategories, in the 2020 ACSI (American Customer Satisfaction Index) survey of roughly 300,000 consumers, and in the 2020 J.D. Power customer satisfaction survey of 31,283 commercial health plan members. We looked at company profiles and Top Ten Reviews to evaluate the depth and breadth of the company's coverage offerings and pricing for individual and employer-based insurance, Medicare Advantage, and other types of policies.
We also looked at availability—the number of doctors, hospitals, and medical systems that contract with (or accept) a particular insurance company’s coverage—and types of coverage offered. And we considered where these insurance companies operate and whether plans can be purchased on healthcare.gov.
Pricing was an important factor in our consideration, and lastly, we considered the number of plans offered and what sort of coverage limits consumers were able to choose from while shopping around for their health insurance.