If you’re joining the 14.2% of the U.S population enrolled in Medicare, it can be overwhelming to figure out what coverage you need. If you want to simplify your Medicare coverage and get it all in one package, you'll want to have a Medicare Advantage plan. Medicare Advantage offers all the coverage of Original Medicare, with extra benefits, such as dental coverage, vision coverage, and often coverage for a gym membership. Costs vary depending on coverage, and choosing a Medicare Advantage plan requires careful consideration. The average monthly cost of a Medicare Advantage plan is $21, much lower than the cost of $144 with Original Medicare (note that you will still be responsible for your Medicare premium even with a Medicare Advantage plan).
When it comes to Medicare Advantage plans, the choices keep growing, so we researched the best companies that offer Medicare Advantage plans based on price, areas of service (companies that serve at least 40 states), health plan quality, availability of educational content, and accessibility of the website so you can get the best insurance quickly and efficiently.
Best User Quality : Cigna
Cigna Medicare Advantage plans earned an average of 3.88 out of 5.0 Stars from CMS in 2021. On this standard measure of Medicare Advantage quality, Cigna scores better than other large national insurers.
Several types of Special Needs Plans
Member services available online or via myCigna app
24/7 access to telehealth
Lots of extra benefits
Prices can be higher depending on location
Despite beating other large plans for quality, there are higher-rated smaller plans
Cigna, sometimes called Cigna HealthSpring for its Medicare Advantage plans, earns higher average Star Ratings from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the agency that oversees Medicare. Out of five stars, Cigna’s plans average 3.88, higher than other large national Medicare Advantage insurers. That said, there are plans with smaller geographic coverage that rate higher.
There’s more going for Cigna than just its quality ratings, though that’s a pretty important one. AM Best gives Cigna an A for financial strength. Cigna offers a wide variety of Medicare Advantage plans, including three types of Special Needs Plans for people with more complex health needs. It offers 24/7 telehealth services, robust online member service capabilities, and the myCigna app. Cigna’s extra benefits are extensive. In addition to dental, vision, hearing, and fitness, Cigna offers some members help with transportation, over-the-counter allowances, home-delivered meals, health and wellness discounts, and a program to help people find assistance paying for essential needs like housing, food, and prescriptions.
All these benefits may come at a cost. Cigna can be pricey, though many of its plans have no or low premiums or deductibles. With higher out-of-pocket maximums averaging nearly $6,000, you might pay more if you need a lot of healthcare services—or less if you don’t.
Best User Experience : Humana
Humana’s website is clear, clean, and simple. It’s easy to navigate and to get clear pricing estimates without having to enter personal information other than your zip code.
Simple, straightforward website
Easy plan comparison
Ability to get estimates without having to enter personal information
Relatively 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 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 coverage only, prescription drugs only, or a plan that includes both. Once you’ve decided that, you can select the type of plan: HMOs, which are often offered without a premium but apply only for in-network providers; PPOs or Private Fee-for-Service plans that offer in- and out-of-network coverage but with higher costs; or the option to see all plans you qualify for.
The process is streamlined and straightforward, giving you the choice 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 personal information. Humana provides recommended plans based on your situation, including listing coverage, premiums, specialists, and prescription costs.
Best in Educational Content : Aetna
Aetna offers clear explanations of Medicare basics, questions to ask when considering Medicare options, and how to choose a Medicare insurance plan, among other topics. Articles and videos help explain the process and prepare you to make the most of your Medicare coverage.
Extensive educational material available
SilverSneakers program provides fitness membership at over 17,000 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, you have the option to learn more about the plan types (such as HMO, PPO, etc.), so that you can make well-informed decisions. Aetna also offers Dual-eligible 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 help to stop smoking.
Searching for coverage and finding what you need is easy. Aetna offers the benefit of guiding you through the process to receive recommendations when you answer questions such as: ZIP code, what type of coverage needs you have, and any other health coverage options you are enrolled in. You can also manually review your options.
Not every plan type may be available in your location, so check your ZIP code through Aetna’s website. Aetna offers a variety of plan types (such as HMO, PPO, fully subsidized Dual-eligible Special Needs plans, etc.) with a range of premiums.
Best for Bonuses : AARP
AARP Medicare Advantage plans are full of extra benefits, from dental, vision, and hearing to over-the-counter benefits, and fitness programs programs. AARP offers lots of additional support to help members stay healthy or manage health conditions.
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, and an online brain health program.
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, normally several thousand dollars.
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.
Best for Simplicity and Clarity : Blue Cross Blue Shield
Shopping for Medicare Advantage coverage can feel like you’re going through a maze. Blue Cross Blue Shield breaks down the steps in the process and does a good job providing information about what its affiliated companies have to offer.
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
Must go to individual plan websites for local details
No Medicare Advantage coverage in Mississippi and Wyoming
If you want Medicare information broken down clearly and in a straightforward manner, Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) 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 multiple PPOs and HMOs as well as a HMO -D-SNP. Each of these options is sponsored by Florida Blue. Each organization may offer different plans and the plans can differ by ZIP code within the state too. So it's important you gather information about the plans in your specific area.
The basic website is clean and easy to navigate, but it’s a little more complicated to actually get an estimate.
However, Blue Cross Blue Shield is actually an association of 35 independent insurance companies, not a single insurer. To get the details of your specific options, you’ll have to track down the BCBS affiliate in your market. Beware: BCBS affiliation may not be obvious from its name or how it’s commonly referred to, such as Anthem or Highmark.
When you enter you ZIP code, the main BCBS site will redirect you to your local Blue Cross website, at which point you can search for plans in your area, which may require reentering your ZIP code depending on the website. It’s a few extra clicks, but the separate plan websites have plenty of information, along with agents in your county who can help you through the process.
How to Shop and Compare the Best Medicare Advantage Plans
Step 1: If You Are Eligible, Enroll in Original Medicare
Original Medicare is the basic Medicare offered to everyone 65 or older, or people who qualify on a basis other than age (e.g., 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 insurers near you.
Step 3: Determine Which Coverage/Features Are Most Important to You
Plan features can vary by plan and company. For example, you may want to check if out-of-network care is covered 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.” Keep in mind that some companies require more personal information than others before they’ll give you an estimate.
Different companies can offer different prices for two people on the same plan, depending on age and gender, so it’s worth doing some research about what your specific costs may be.
Step 5: Consider Talking to a Broker or Consultant
Programs such as the federally funded State Health Insurance Assistance Programs are excellent resources. Working with a broker has a lot of benefits, including experience and connections with a huge array of insurance companies. Many 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 your initial enrollment period, which starts three months before the month you turn 65 and ends three months after, or during the annual 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. Medigap coverage has more individual options, but the prices can rack up for each type of supplemental coverage.
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. There are some disadvantages of Medicare Advantage Plans to keep in mind before rushing into a Medicare Advantage plan. With Medicare Advantage, you’ll trade some of the flexibility you have when you piece together supplemental coverage and you’ll have to live by the insurance company’s rules. So make sure you do your research and think about whether convenience and cost are more important to you than flexibility.
How Much Does a Medicare Advantage Plan Typically Cost?
Many Medicare Advantage plans have a $0 premium. Many plans that do have premiums aren’t too steep. The average monthly premium for all Medicare Advantage plans is $21 but among plans with premiums, the average is $60.
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. Some also offer 24-hour nurse hotlines to answer medical questions. Part of the reason Medicare Advantage plans are popular is that they are comprehensive and all-encompassing.
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 each year: October 15–December 7 and January 1–March 31.
You can apply for Original Medicare (Parts A and B) three 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?
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 and has no cap on out-of-pocket costs. Bundling usually makes sense, and the majority of the plans reviewed here also include “extras” such as vision, dental, and hearing, all for the same premium. It’s less to keep track of and more coverage for less money (in some cases).
How We Chose the Best Medicare Advantage Plan Insurance Companies
We reviewed 10 of the most commonly used insurance companies in the United States and selected companies that serve the majority to provide the best selection for most consumers. We also considered the company’s financial and public relations reputation, the price, AM Best ranking, accessibility of the website or mobile app, availability of international coverage, whether or not local, in-person agents are available, availability in at least 40 states, and how easy it is to get estimates and apply for coverage. We also considered whether companies offer extra bonuses for enrollees, such as membership in health plans or automatic withdrawal from your Social Security for premiums.
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