Medicare Advantage Plans, sometimes referred to as “Part C” or “MA Plans,” are considered an all-inclusive alternative to Original Medicare. Coverage in Medicare Advantage Plans includes Medicare Part A (hospital coverage) and Medicare Part B (medical insurance). Most Medicare Advantage Plans also include Medicare Part D (prescription drug coverage).
Most Medicare Advantage plans have very low monthly premiums—or no premium at all—but the copays and deductibles are usually higher than if you opt for a Medicare Supplement plan.
One downside to most Medical Advantage plans is that you must choose a provider that is included in the plan’s network, to optimize cost savings.
Many Medicare Advantage plans allow you to see your own healthcare provider—whether or not you see an in-network provider—for an additional cost.
The process of selecting the right Medicare Advantage Plan can be daunting, so we have researched to create a list of some of the best Medicare Advantage plans offered. But the list is simply a place for you to get started. You will need to contact each of your prospective choices to find out exactly which type of plan is best for you: some are only offered in a specific geographic area (and not available statewide), so even if they provide coverage in your state, you will need to inquire about your precise location. Here are our top picks.
The 6 Best Medicare Advantage Plan Providers
Kaiser Foundation Health Plan: Best Reputation
Why we chose it: Kaiser Foundation offers top-rated, award-winning health care plans. In 2020 Medicare’s rating plan, based on a 5-star system, awarded Kaiser Permanente 5 out of 5 stars for California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Virginia, Maryland, Washington D.C., and received 4.5 out of 5 stars for its Northwest region (including Oregon and Washington). Of 412 health plans rated by the National Committee on Quality Assurance (NCQA), only 4 health plans received a 5 out of 5-star rating; three out of the four 5 star awards went to the Kaiser Foundation.
Gets 5 out of 5 stars in Medicare’s CMS rating system in most states
Offers award-winning insurance plans
Advantage Plus option offers enhanced benefits (dental, hearing, and extra vision coverage)
Coverage is only available in eight states (and Washington D.C.)
Some plans are only available in certain regions of the state
Kaiser Permanente has long been a leader in the health care industry; the company was founded in 1945 and today serves 12.4 million members. Its options include two levels of Medicare Advantage Plans: standard Medicare Advantage and Medicare Advantage Plus (with expanded coverage and services).
Kaiser Permanente’s Medicare Advantage plan is easy-to-use and pays for hospital coverage, medical services (such as doctors’ visits), drug coverage, preventative care, and more. There is a fixed yearly limit on how much you’ll have to spend on out-of-pocket expenses. The website offers helpful videos and a free guide to what you need to know to select the right Medicare health plan for you. Also, you may select or change any Kaiser Permanente in-network doctor at any time, provided the physician is taking new patients.
States and regions that offer Kaiser Medicare Advantage Plans include Northern and Southern California; Denver and Boulder, Colorado; Georgia; Hawaii; Maryland; Oregon; Virginia; Washington; and Washington, D.C.
Different types of plans are available, depending on which state you live in.
In addition to enrolling online, you can talk with a Kaiser Permanente Medicare specialist on the phone to ask questions, get a quote, or find out how to apply.
Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield: Best Customer Ratings
Why we chose it: Highmark was selected primarily because of its high customer satisfaction ratings. In a 2020 study, Highmark Medicare Advantage members rated it the most satisfied of those with any other health plan, surpassing Kaiser Foundation.
Gets 4.5 to 5 stars (out of 5 in Medicare’s CMS rating system)
Many preventative and specialty services
24/7 nursing line is available to answer medical questions
Offers an HMO and a PPO plan
Extra coverage is available for services like dental, vision, and chiropractic care
A prescription drug plan is available
Offers several wellness and fitness programs
Offers benefits to cover some over-the-counter medications
Worldwide coverage is included
Coverage is only available in three states: Pennsylvania, Delaware, and West Virginia
Some specialty services have an added fee
Costs can vary depending on the level of care required
See FAQs below to learn more about the difference between a PPO and an HMO.
Highmark was selected primarily because of its high customer satisfaction ratings. In a 2020 study, Highmark’s Medicare Advantage plan members were deemed the most satisfied of those with any other health plan, surpassing Kaiser Foundation’s five-year record as number one for customer satisfaction.
Highmark offers two different types of Medicare Advantage plans: an HMO (Health Maintenance Organization) and a PPO (Preferred Provider Organization) plan. Several plans include a Medicare Part D (prescription drug) coverage, but some plans do not include Part D, so the monthly premium reflects which benefits you select, and range from approximately $0 to $167 per month. Prices vary according to your location, the level of care required, and the policy and type of services that you select.
Specialty services include wellness and fitness programs, such as Active Fit which allows you to choose from over 10,000 facilities and classes nationwide, plus product discounts on fitness gear, exercise trackers, and more. Preventative services include, for example, classes on how to prevent diabetes. Coverage for many over-the-counter medications (first aid kits, aspirin, insect bite prevention) is also included.
Highmark Inc. is one of the largest companies in the healthcare industry, insuring over 5.6 million members. Its plans are available in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Delaware, but some plans may not be available in specific geographic locations within these states.
Worldwide coverage is included, provided you are traveling or living in a Blue Medicare Advantage PPO plan service area.
Some of the extra benefits, such as the over-the-counter purchase plan, involve an additional fee.
Call Kaiser to learn about plans available in your area.
Many Medicare Advantage Plans also include extra benefits that Original Medicare does not provide such as hearing, vision, and dental care. In addition, many companies include free amenities such as health promotion services, free home prescription drug delivery service, and more. A few even offer free meal delivery (after hospitalization).
Aetna Medicare Advantage: Best for Extra Benefits
Why we chose it: Aetna has a long history of stability and credibility. Its nationwide network offers a wide range of coverage plans and benefits, including many unique benefits not offered by other plans (such as the Meals-at-home program).
Gets 4.5 to 5 stars (out of 5 in Medicare’s CMS rating system)
Vision and dental benefits are available in most plans
SilverSneaker Fitness program
Most plans start at $0 per month
Resources for Living services
Home delivery prescription drug program
Meals at home program
Over the counter benefits
Competitive cost plans
Confusing website, with various affiliated company names making navigation difficult
Some plans require you to have a primary care physician (PCP) and a doctors’ order to see any specialists
Must talk to an agent to find out about coverage or get a quote for plans
The Aetna Medicare Advantage plan is available as both an HMO and a PPO plan; for some services, you can see a health care provider that is out of network. With the PPO plan, you can select any provider that accepts Medicare, without a referral. But your costs may be more when using an out-of-network provider.
Aetna has a rich history, dating back to 1853. Its A (excellent) rating from AM Best speaks of its financial stability. The website offers a portal for its customers to track claims, view coverage, and request ID cards. Aetna offers competitive rates for Medicare Advantage plans, many options starting with a $0 monthly premium rate.
Resources for Living benefits include a Concierge service to assist members in finding local resources, the SilverSneakers fitness membership (with over 15,000 participating facilities), and over-the-counter benefits to help you pay for things like vitamins and cold medicines. The Meals-at-home program is included in many plans—a benefit designed to deliver nutritious meals to your door after a hospital stay. In addition, there is a 24/7 on-call nursing line.
They also offer a home delivery prescription drug program that allows you to order some medications and have them delivered directly to your home.
You will need to talk to a licensed agent by phone to find out if coverage is available in your state and to get a quote for plans.
Cigna-HealthSpring: Best for Large Network
Why we chose it: Cigna Health-Spring Medicare Advantage was selected because the company is one of the largest networks offering Medicare Advantage plans. Cigna’s many extra services and benefits, along with low premiums, deductibles, and copays, set it apart from many of its competitors. Cigna was also chosen for its stability, financial soundness (AM’s Best Ratings gives Cigna an “A” (Excellent), and high CMS rating. Founded in 1872, it is also one of the oldest (and most experienced) insurance companies.
Gets 4.5 stars (out of 5 according to Medicare’s CMS rating system)
Offers Medicare coverage in 48 states
Savings on nationwide prescription drug plan
24/7 health Information nurse line
No cost extras for some extras, such as health coaching and fitness plan
Hearing, dental and vision coverage is available
Transportation provided for medical appointments and pharmacy visits
The website can be difficult to navigate (particularly for those with little experience using the internet)
The simplest way to get a quote involves calling
Cigna provides a nationwide prescription drug plan with $0 deductible and $0 copay on many prescriptions.
Cigna’s unique medical model focuses on customer engagement and holistic care, for example, home-delivered meals after hospitalization, that enhance the patient experience.
Cigna offers many Medicare Advantage plans, most with a $0 premium. In fact, according to Cigna, 50% of its Medical Advantage plans to charge $0 for annual premiums. In addition, 87% of its plans require $0 for copay to visit a primary care doctor. However, the cost of every plan is different, depending on your location.
Some policies will help reduce your monthly premium on Medicare Part B.
You can enroll online, or talk to an agent.
AARP/UnitedHealthcare: Best for Promoting Health for Seniors
We chose AARP/UnitedHealthcare because of its high CMS ratings, stable financial status (receives an A [excellent] rating from AM Best), and its wide range of plans and extra benefits, designed to help support long-term health and wellness for seniors.
Gets 5 stars (out of 5 from Medicare’s CMS rating system)
Offers many unique plans (not available with competitors’ plans)
Offers many rewards for preventative care
Gives over $150 in free health and wellness products
Coverage for routine dental care, eye exams, eyeglasses, and corrective lenses.
Some plans include coverage for Hearing tests and hearing aids
Wellness programs and fitness memberships
Options for plans with and without provider networks
Limitations on annual out-of-pocket costs for Medicare-covered services
Premiums to fit different budgets
$0 copays on all primary care provider visits
$0 copays on most common prescriptions
Talk to a designated telehealth health care provider 24/7
Confusion may result from so many different plans to choose from
Not all plans are available in all areas
The PFFS and MSA plans do not include prescription drug coverage, but you can enroll in a separate standalone Medicare Part D plan.
AARP/UnitedHealthcare was founded in 1977, and today is considered a national leader in healthcare management. It insures approximately 2 million people, enrolled in a healthcare plan through its 20 locally based HMO’s and an additional 20 million people in all 50 states through its PPOs. Its Medical Savings Account (MSA) plans to combine a high-deductible Medicare Advantage plan with a special savings account. Funds are deposited by Medicare and withdrawn (tax-free) to pay for qualified healthcare services. You can see any provider you want.
For its Private Fee-For-Service (PFFS) plans, some have a provider network, and some don’t.
Its site requires you to enter your ZIP code to find a plan in your state, or you can call AARP/UnitedHealthcare for questions about plans or how to enroll.
Humana: Best for Variety of Plans
Why we chose it: Humana was selected because of the financial stability of the company (received an A [excellent] rating from A.M. Best) coupled with the number of unique benefits and plans it offers. In addition, Humana gets high customer service ratings from J.D. Power (listed as the third best for 2020), and other high customer rating reviews.
Gets a 4.5 rating (out of 5 in Medicare’s CMS rating system)
Offers Medicare Advantage plans in 47 states
SilverSneakers fitness program
Prescription drug coverage and mail delivery pharmacy
Routing hearing and dental care
HMO plans with $0 premiums in some locations
PPO plans allow any Medicare approved doctor (in-network providers are less expensive)
Unique Medicare Advantage plans such as PFFS and SNP
Offers a wealth of information about Medicare and online resources
Emergency coverage is available outside of the United States
The website can be difficult to navigate due to the number of services and types of insurance policies offered
Plans may differ according to location
Some premium rates are higher than many of their competitors
Human Advantage Care includes some unique plans that are not offered by many other providers such as:
- Humana PFFS plans, private-fee-for-service (PFFS) plans, which allow beneficiaries to select any health care provider that accepts Humana insurance payments
- Special Needs Plan (SNP), which is for people with special needs due to a chronic health condition (must be eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare)
Originally a chain of nursing homes, Humana is now a private health insurance company. By 2014, Human insured 22 million people in the U.S., generating $41.3 billion in revenue. Today its Medicare Advantage plans are available in every geographic location that Human offers insurance coverage: the District of Columbia and every state except for Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Plans differ according to location.
Some of the unique benefits offered by Human include:
- In-network home health care services
- Free coverage for most preventative screenings (paid for yearly)
- Prescription drug coverage is equal to or better than the standard Medicare Part D plan
- Plans without prescription drug coverage are also available in some areas
You can call a licensed Humana agent to learn more about plans in your state.
You will have to pay your regular monthly Medicare Part B (to the government) in order to maintain eligibility for a Medicare Advantage policy.
How We Selected the Best Medicare Advantage Plans
We looked at several top lists of Medicare Advantage plans, reliable third-party ratings of each plan, and considered approximately 30 different providers. We then narrowed it down to those that offered unique benefits and services and those with the highest ratings.
What Is a Medicare Advantage Plan?
A Medicare Advantage plan is a health care plan that’s purchased through a private (third-party) insurance company. It’s not a Medicare Supplement plan, but rather, a substitution for Original Medicare. The insurance companies that offer Medicare Advantage plans are contracted with Medicare to provide insurance coverage to qualified Medicare beneficiaries.
What Is the Difference Between a Medicare Advantage Plan and Original Medicare?
The primary difference is that Original Medicare is administered by the federal government and Medicare Advantage is managed by third-party insurance companies that are contracted with Medicare. Both offer Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B benefits. Most Medicare Advantage plans offer an option for Medicare Part D (prescription drug benefits). Overall, you will stand to save quite a bit of money in out-of-pocket expenses with a Medicare Advantage plan: most have low copays and deductibles, and many plans charge $0 for monthly premiums.
Can I See My Own Doctor With a Medicare Advantage Plan?
It depends. Most Medicare Advantage plans have a limited selection of providers within their network, but some of the bigger companies offer a wider range of options, both for facilities as well as health care providers.
So, before you decide on a Medicare Advantage plan, be sure to make a list of your preferred hospitals, doctors, and other health care providers, so you can check if they are within the network for the Medicare Advantage Plan you contact.
Does a Medicare Advantage Plan Cover Prescriptions?
Many Medicare Advantage plans include prescription drug coverage built into the plan, but not all, so you should be sure to ask, before signing up for a Medicare Advantage plan.
What Can I Expect to Pay for a Medicare Advantage Plan?
According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the average monthly premium cost for a Medicare Advantage plan was $26.87 in 2019.
Many plans have a no-cost premium, while others charge premiums as high as $160 or more. But the copay and deductible amounts can vary a great deal from one policy to another.
What Is the Difference Between an HMO and a PPO Plan?
Medicare Advantage HMO plans usually require that you see a doctor or specialist and visit the facilities within the network, but most of the time there are exceptions for emergency situations (such as when you need to visit an emergency room or urgent care when you are traveling. Overall, an HMO plan usually offers the most cost savings (provided you are seeing in-network providers).
Medicare Advantage PPO plans usually have higher premiums than HMO plans, but there is more flexibility when it comes to seeing a doctor without a referral or seeing a health care provider outside of the network. Most of the time, when you visit an out-of-network provider, you will pay more.
Is a Medicare Advantage Plan Better Than a Medigap Plan?
It depends on your individual situation when comparing the two; one downside to most Medicare Advantage plans is that you must choose a provider that is in the plan’s network for optimal cost-effectiveness (as compared to Medicare Supplement/Medigap plans, which allow you to see any provider who accepts Medicare payments). If you are OK with seeing an in-network physician, you stand to save the most money and get the most benefits from a Medicare Advantage plan. But, if you travel quite often and you prefer to see your own health care provider (who is out of network), a Medigap policy may be best for you.
Medicare.gov. "How do Medicare Advantage Plans Work"? Accessed on September 14, 2020.
J.D. Power. Medicare Advantage Plans Struggle to Communicate Effectively with Members, J.D. Power Finds. Accessed on September 14, 2020.
Cigna News Release. "CIGNA-HEALTHSPRING ANNOUNCES 2019 MEDICARE ADVANTAGE PLANS WITH NEW BENEFITS CHAMPIONING ACCESS TO HIGH-QUALITY, PERSONALIZED AND AFFORDABLE CARE." Accessed on September 15, 2020.
Becker’s Hospital Review. Accessed on September 15, 2020.
The Balance. "What Are Medicare Advantage Plans?" Accessed on September 15, 2020.
CMS.gov. "Trump Administration Drives Down Medicare Advantage and Part D Premiums for Seniors." Accessed on September 16, 2020.
San Diego Financial Literacy Center. "HMO vs. PPO Health Insurance Plans: Selecting the Right Plan for Your Need." Accessed on September 16, 2020.