If you’re joining the 15% of the U.S population currently enrolled in Medicare, it can be overwhelming to figure out what coverage you need, and more than likely you'll want to have a Medicare Advantage plan as well. A Medicare Advantage plan offers all the coverage of an Original Medicare plan, with a few extra benefits as well, such as dental coverage, vision coverage, and even coverage for a gym membership with some companies. Costs can vary depending on coverage, just as with Original Medicare, and choosing a Medicare Advantage plan requires careful consideration. The average monthly cost of a Medicare Advantage plan is about $29, much lower than the average $144 with Original Medicare.
And when it comes to Medicare Advantage plans, the choices can be overwhelming. That’s why we researched the best companies that offer Medicare Advantage Plans based on price, areas of service (companies that serve at least 40 states), availability of educational content, and accessibility of the website so you can get the best insurance for you as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Medicare Advantage Plans of 2020
Humana: Best User Experience
Simple, straightforward website
Easy plan comparison
Ability to get estimates without having to enter personal information
Limited educational information available on website
Unable to make payments via app
Several different types of plans (HMO, PPO, etc) can be overwhelming
Humana has claimed an A- ranking from AM Best, indicating its strong financial state. We chose Humana for the Best User Experience because when you are comparing plans, Humana gives you the opportunity to choose what kind(s) of plans you want to see, whether it’s Medical only, prescription drugs only, or a plan that includes both. Once you’ve decided that, you have the option of what type of plan: HMOs, which are often offered without a premium but apply only for in-network services; PPOs or Private Fee-for-Service plans that offer in- and out-of-network services but with higher costs; or the option to see all plans you qualify for.
The process is streamlined and straightforward, giving you the option to enter your doctor’s name or prescription medication information to get an accurate estimate, all without having to register for an account, wait for an email, or input a lot of private information. Humana provides recommended plans based on your situation, including listing coverage, premiums, specialists, and prescription costs.
Aetna: Best in Educational Content
Extensive educational material available
SilverSneakers program provides fitness membership at over 15,000 gym facilities
Dual Special Needs Plan available if you qualify for Medicare and Medicaid
Ability to pay your invoice in person with a cashier at any CVS store (except those in Target)
Fewer plans available
No app available for payments
We like Aetna because of the care and tone it takes regarding educational information on its website. Before even getting into the particular coverage available for you, you have the option to learn more about the plan types (such as HMO, PPO, etc), so that you can go into the decision-making process well informed. Aetna also offers Dual Special Needs Plans for people who qualify for Medicare and Medicaid, which allow for the coverage offered by Original Medicare along with additional special benefits like non-emergency transportation, meal programs, over-the-counter medicine coverage or smoking cessation assistance.
Checking your coverage is fairly easy, and Aetna offers the benefit of guiding you through the process to receive recommendations when you enter your personal information (such as ZIP code, the options to include your age and general health level, ranging from “Good” to “Poor,” and any other health coverage options you are enrolled in), or manually review your options.
Not every plan type may be available in your location, so make sure to check your ZIP code through Aetna’s website. Aeta offers a variety of plan types (such as HMO, PPO, Dual Full Subsidy plans, etc) with a range of premium costs, some as low as $0, all the way up through more expensive premiums at around $285 a month.
Aetna has an A ranking from AM Best, putting it at the “excellent” point.
AARP: Best for Bonuses
Plenty of added bonuses, like annual ear/eye exams and $0 copay dental work
Low copays and prescription drug copays
Automatic deduction from Social Security benefits available
No mobile app for payments
Higher out-of-pocket maximums
Nearly all of the Medicare Advantage plans offered by AARP come with plenty of extras, such as dental exams, vision and eyewear coverage, foot coverage, along with Renew Active, a Medicare fitness program with a gym membership, an online brain health program, and access to local health and wellness events.
In addition, AARP offers low copays for specialist visits, such as visits to an oncologist or a cardiologist, provided they’re in-network. It also offers a variety of Medicare Advantage plans (eg, HMOs, Private Fee-For-Service, etc) and has an incredible amount of detailed educational information about Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans on its website, including the option to receive a free Medicare guide via email. However, the out-of-pocket maximums can be a bit on the high side, up to nearly $5,000.
Not only does AARP offer the ability to make your payments with your Social Security benefits, but it actually gives the option to have it automatically withdrawn from them, which gives you one less thing to worry about. The Social Security Administration will automatically deduct your Medicare Part B payment from your benefits, and AARP has the ability to do the same for your Medicare Advantage plan.
State Farm: Best in Financial Security
Straightforward process to get estimates
Superior ranking by AM Best
Limited plans offered
Not offered in Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, or Rhode Island
State Farm is the only Medicare Advantage insurance company we reviewed to achieve the AM Best ranking of A++, “Superior,” meaning it is extremely strong in terms of financial backing and support.
State Farm offers several different “parts” of Medicare, with Medicare Advantage (Part C) falling under that umbrella. This is good in that it simplifies the search and comparison process against other Parts, but not as helpful when trying to compare options within Medicare Advantage itself. State Farm offers other Supplemental Medicare Parts, such as D, G, and N, but you may need to reach out to an agent to determine if State Farm offers Medicare Advantage in your location.
While it’s simple to get a personalized estimate with just your ZIP code, State Farm doesn't offer quite as many variants or benefits with Medicare Advantage as its competitors and its prices are a bit higher in comparison to others, starting at around $180 a month and going from there. Most other companies have plans starting at $0, or as low as $18. State Farm does make it easy to connect with a live agent near you (whether over the phone or in person), to answer any questions, so you can get detailed, personalized information about how much your coverage may cost.
Blue Cross Blue Shield: Best in Simplicity and Clarity
Low premiums, with optional add-ons for extra cost (dental, vision, etc.)
Website’s educational information on many different kinds of plans
Coverage offered in Puerto Rico
No estimates available on the main page
No coverage in 9 states: Alaska, Delaware, Iowa, Maryland, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Wyoming
If you want all the information at once, broken down clearly and in a straightforward manner, Blue Cross Blue Shield is the best company to go through for Medicare Advantage. We chose it primarily for features such as its Medicare Advantage Plans document, available for anyone to view on its website without having to enter any personal information. It gives a detailed look into the company's plan offerings, explaining what types of plans are offered in which state, and who to contact if you want to enroll.
For example, in Florida, you have the option of going through a Regional Preferred Provider Organization (PPO), a Local PPO, a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO), a Special Needs Plan (SNP), or even an HMO with a Point of Service option (HMO-POS). Each of these options is sponsored by Florida Blue, and may have a different product name (such as Capital Health Plan Advantage, which is an HMO), so that when you contact the organization, you know exactly what program to express interest in and gather information about.
The basic website is clean and easy to navigate, but it’s a little more complicated to actually get an estimate. Since plan coverage can vary based on state, the site will redirect you to your state’s Blue Cross website, at which point you can enter your ZIP code for estimates. It’s a few extra clicks, but the state websites have plenty of information, along with agents in your county, who can help you through the process.
How We Chose the Best Medicare Advantage Plan Insurance Companies
To present this information, we reviewed 10 of the most commonly used insurance companies in the United States. We selected companies that served the majority, to provide the best selection for most consumers. We also considered the company’s financial and public relations reputation, the price, the AM Best ranking, the accessibility of the website or mobile app, the availability of international coverage, whether or not local, in-person agents are available, whether plans were available in at least 40 states, and if so, how easy it is to get estimates and apply for coverage. We also considered if companies offered extra bonuses for enrollees, such as membership in health plans or automatic withdrawal from your Social Security for premiums.
How to Shop & Compare the Best Medicare Advantage Plans
Step 1: If You Are Eligible, Enroll in an Original Medicare Plan
Original Medicare is the basic Medicare offered to everyone 65 or older, or people who qualify on a basis other than age (i.e. you have a disability). (You may be enrolled in Original Medicare automatically, or you may have to sign up if you’re 65, or almost 65, and do not get Social Security.)
Step 2: Find a List of Medicare Advantage Plans Available in Your State or ZIP Code
Plans, coverage, and costs can vary by state and even county, depending on your location and the availability of local agents near you.
Step 3: Determine Which Coverage/Features Are Most Important to You
This can vary by plan and company. For example, you may want to check if out-of-network care is covered, if there’s a yearly limit on out-of-pocket costs, or even if the plan has a copay for prescription medication.
Step 4: Compare the Difference in Cost Among Medicare Advantage Plans
If you don’t want to make an account or are just looking for estimates, you can select “Continue without logging in.” Some companies require more personal information than others before an estimate can be given, so keep that in mind when you’re looking for cost comparisons.
Different companies can offer different prices for the same person on the same plan, so it’s worth doing some research.
Step 5: Consider Talking to a Broker or Consultant
Programs such as the federally funded State Health Insurance Assistance Programs are an excellent resource. Working with a broker has a lot of important benefits, including experience and connections with a huge array of insurance companies. They may have more access to more plans than you might on your own, and many such brokers maintain an ongoing relationship with you to help you as your needs change. There are very specific rules to protect you when it comes to brokers, so keep these in mind as you reach out and research.
Do not pay a Medicare broker directly for their assistance. They are paid by the insurance company to sell their insurance. If you suspect Medicare Advantage fraud, please call the Medicare Drug Integrity Contractor at 1-877-772-3379.
Step 6: Sign Up
To enroll in a Medicare Advantage Plan, sign up during the Open Enrollment for Medicare Advantage, which runs from October 15 through December 7. However, there are a variety of extenuating circumstances where you can enroll with a “special enrollment period.” For example, if you move and your current plan isn’t available, or there are other plans available in your new location; if you are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid; or if your plan’s contract with medicare is changed or terminated.
What Is the Difference Between a Medigap Plan and Medicare Advantage?
The difference between a Medigap plan and a Medicare Advantage plan boils down to two main factors: cost and coverage. The Medicare Advantage plan can be cheaper, but the Medigap plan does offer the ability to pick and choose the coverage you want, whereas in most cases the Medicare Advantage plan has a set coverage scope. Medicare Advantage is still a Medicare plan, it just offers a bit more all at once than Original Medicare does, as it includes prescription coverage, and in most cases coverage for vision, dental, or hearing.
What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Buying a Medicare Advantage Plan?
The biggest benefit of buying a Medicare Advantage plan is the "bundling" concept. You get Part A and Part B, as well as in most cases Part D, which is coverage for prescription drugs. Some plans also allow for further coverage, such as dental or vision. Medigap coverage has more individual options, but the prices can rack up for each individual part of Medigap. There are some disadvantages of Medicare Advantage Plans to keep in mind before rushing into a Medicare Advantage plan, so make sure you do your research.
What Does a Medicare Advantage Plan Typically Cost?
Many Medicare Advantage plans have a $0 premium. The increases from that point generally aren’t too steep, from around $20 to upward of $100 a month.
Why Are Some Medicare Advantage Plans Free?
When a Medicare Advantage plan has a $0 premium, often the company is able to offer that lower price by saving money on other costs, for example, using in-network healthcare providers. They pass those savings on to you by offering a premium at no charge. A $0 premium is also a great way for providers to attract customers. You will, however, still have other monthly costs.
What Do Medicare Advantage Plans Not Cover?
Medicare Advantage plans, at the basic level, do not cover dental or vision, but many plans offer those and other extra benefits, such as gym memberships or wellness programs, and some also offer 24-hour hotlines for medical assistance. Part of the reason Medicare Advantage plans are popular is because of how comprehensive and all-encompassing the plan coverage can be.
What If I Want to Change My Medicare Advantage Plan?
Whether you’re switching from one Medicare Advantage plan to another Medicare Advantage plan, or switching from Medicare Advantage to Original Medicare, you may do so within the two Medicare enrollment periods: October 15–December 7 and January 1–March 31.
You can apply for Original Medicare (Parts A & B) 3 months before you turn 65, the month of your birthday, and up to 3 months after you turn 65.
Is a Medicare Advantage Plan Worth It?
Yes, it is worth it to get a Medicare Advantage plan, especially if you can find a plan with a $0 premium. Some of those plans have higher out-of-pocket costs or copays (depending on the insurer), but it would likely be far less expensive for you in the long run versus Original Medicare, especially since Original Medicare would require an extra plan to include prescription medications. Bundling usually makes sense, and the majority of the plans reviewed here also include “extras” such as vision, dental, and even hearing, all for the same premium. It’s less to keep track of and more coverage for (in some cases) less money.