Tips for a Wise Buyer
We evaluated 15 major Medicare Advantage companies and identified the six best choices. No single plan is best for all situations, so you’ll want to compare plans and choose the one that is right for your circumstances. The Medicare Advantage providers we ranked highest are Humana, Aetna, United Healthcare, SelectQuote Senior, Medicare Helpline and Health Plan Solution.
Choosing a Medicare Advantage plan might feel overwhelming, but this guide will help you sort through the details. We’ll explain why you might benefit from a Medicare Advantage plan, how these plans work and how much you can expect to pay. We’ll also provide evaluations of our top Medicare Advantage companies. You will find Frequently Asked Questions about Medicare Advantage toward the end of this guide.
- Consider what coverage options are essential.
- Compare plans and get several estimates.
- Make sure you understand the plan’s out-of-pocket expenses.
What is Medicare Advantage Insurance?
Medicare Advantage is a convenient way to bundle Medicare coverage plans. Generally, all Americans age 65 and older are eligible for federally-subsidized Medicare health insurance. Original Medicare is divided into Part A to cover hospitalization and optional Part B medical insurance. Medicare Part D is also optional and covers prescription drugs.
Part A may be free if you or your spouse worked and paid Medicare taxes for at least 10 years. However, most people pay premiums for Parts B and D. Medicare bills every three months if you enroll in Parts B and D, or premiums get deducted from your Social Security, Civil Service Retirement or Railroad Retirement check.
Unfortunately, Parts A, B and D don’t include coverage for co-pays, deductibles and common medical expenses like hearing aids or glasses. To fill these coverage gaps, you buy Medigap coverage, also known as Medicare Supplemental Insurance or Medicare Advantage, sometimes called Part C.
Medicare Advantage allows you to bundle your
Original Medicare with additional coverage options
Medicare Advantage allows you to bundle your coverage options into one plan. Medicare Advantage plans are available only through federally-approved private insurance providers and must follow specific coverage rules set by the government. You must already be enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B to enroll in Medicare Advantage.
Medicare Advantage Coverages
All Medicare Advantage plans include Parts A (hospital insurance) and B (medical insurance). These plans also cover emergency and urgent care. Many also contain Part D (prescription drug coverage). Some Medicare Advantage plans also include insurance you don’t get with Medicare, like dental, vision and hearing. Medicare Advantage often provides coverage for hearing aids, which Parts A, B or D don’t cover. The plans do not include hospice care, which is still covered under Original Medicare, even if you have Medicare Advantage.
Medicare Advantage plan coverages
can differ significantly
Some Medicare Advantage plans have other benefits that can help you stay active and healthy during your senior years. For example, some plans include gym memberships, on-call health lines or mailed prescriptions.
Prescriptions with Medicare Advantage
If you need prescription coverage, look for plans that require what is known as “step therapy.” Providers are allowed to require you to try cheaper drug options for a period of time before more expensive options. This rule started in 2019 and is in place even if the more expensive option is more likely to work. Medicare Advantage insurers can require you to use an in-network pharmacy, which may not be the most convenient.
Medicare Advantage Network Options
Medicare Advantage is similar to traditional health insurance and is available in many different formats. The two most common are health maintenance organizations (HMO) or a preferred provider organization (PPO). An HMO requires using in-network providers, where PPO offers lower fees to see in-network providers.
Medicare Advantage plans are structured much like
traditional health insurance plans
Other available Medicare Advantage plans include private fee-for-service (PFFS), special needs plans (SNP), HMO point-of-service (HMO-POS) and medical savings account (MSA).
|Medicare Advantage Pros and Cons|
|Convenient all-in-one coverage||Must see in-network providers|
|No claims to submit||May require approval for coverage|
|Vision, dental and hearing exam options||Limited care while traveling|
|Preventative care provisions||Higher cost for some services|
Medicare Advantage Costs
The average Medicare Advantage premium for 2019 is $28 per month but can vary from $0 to $300. Other out-of-pocket costs might include annual or other deductibles or copayments for visits or services. Many plans have in-network and out-of-network providers, so you may pay more if you use a provider who is not part of the network.
Medicare Advantage plans are only allowed to change rates each January 1 and must notify you in writing in an Annual Notice of Change (ANOC). Be sure to review the ANOC each year before re-enrolling to be sure you are not paying more than you thought.
Medicare Advantage costs vary widely depending
on the options you select
While you consider costs, remember that you still pay your Medicare Part B premium even if you have a Medicare Advantage plan.
Using a Medicare Advantage Marketplace
Some companies serve as brokers or marketplaces to help you search for Medicare Advantage plans, including three of our best Medicare Advantage provider picks. These companies partner with licensed providers so consumers can shop across several Medicare Advantage lines. Keep in mind that broker and marketplace services only show your plans from the provider partner, not all available plans.
A marketplace or broker can take some
of the work out of your search,
but won’t show you all options
A marketplace or broker service does a lot of the legwork for you and shows you plans that fit your criteria. You can also use the government’s Medicare Plan Finder tool to find a provider and plan.
Our Search for the Best Medicare Advantage Companies
1. We considered an extensive list of Medicare Advantage companies
2. We evaluated the companies based on our expert criteria: pricing, clear and simple policies and coverage
3. We provided you with our picks for the best Medicare Advantage companies for your consideration
Medicare Advantage Company Reviews
After our evaluation, we chose the best Medicare Advantage companies: Humana, Aetna, United Healthcare, SelectQuote Senior, Medicare Helpline and Health Plan Solution. Each of these companies stood out above and beyond the competition.
Best variety |
Humana is a well-known insurance provider headquartered in Kentucky. Founded in 1961, Humana offers a wide selection of Medicare Advantage plans, including HMO, PPO, PFFS and SNPs.
Coverage options include dental, vision and hearing care as well as prescription drug coverage. You can even have your prescriptions mailed to your home. Members enjoy a free membership at a participating gym as part of the SilverSneakers program.
Best Benefits |
Founded in 1853 and headquartered in Hartford, Connecticut, Aetna is a major health insurance provider with over 39 million customers. Aetna’s Medicare Advantage plans include HMO, HMO-POS, PPO and SNPs.
The policies offer many added benefits like a SilverSneakers gym membership, 24/7 nurse line and prescription home delivery. Aetna also provides Resources for Living, a concierge program designed to help you locate local resources.
AARP by United Healthcare
Best Provider Network |
United Healthcare is part of the largest healthcare company in the world, UnitedHealth Group. This insurance company offers Medicare Advantage plans called AARP Medicare Advantage.
Most AARP Medicare Advantage programs combine Medicare Part A, B and D into one plan. Many also offer hearing, dental and vision coverage and other benefits like no copays for doctor visits and prescription drugs. United Healthcare has the largest provider network in the country.
Most Convenient Quotes |
Source: SelectQuote Senior
SelectQuote Senior is an online insurance brokerage service. It is free to use. You provide your contact information, and a representative calls you on the phone to give a quote for a Medicare Advantage or other Medicare Supplement insurance plan from a partner company.
SelectQuote does not publish its insurance provider partners. SelectQuote is owned by Tiburon Insurance Services, which specializes in brokerage services for Medicare Advantage and Part D insurance.
Best Plan Comparison |
Source: Medicare Helpline
The Medicare Helpline is a broker that helps you find plans from various companies, including Aetna, Mutual of Omaha, Cigna and Humana. You can use their online portal to enter your information, request a free quote and review plan options. This is a handy service if you want help narrowing down your options.
The Medicare Helpline is a part of Tiburon Insurance Services, headquartered in California. Tiburon specializes in Medicare Advantage and Part D insurance. It also allows you to compare plans from select providers.
Health Plan Solution
Best Selection of Providers |
Source: Health Plan Solution
Health Plan Solution is a broker that works with many major insurance providers, including Aetna, Anthem, Cigna, Mutual of Omaha, Humana and United Healthcare. It is free to compare plans.
Health Plan Solution is a part of Tiburon Insurance Services, a broker that specializes in Medicare Advantage (Part C) and Medicare prescription (Part D) insurance. Health Plan Solution also allows you to compare health plans for dental and critical illness insurance.
Frequently Asked Questions About Medicare Advantage
When can I sign up for a Medicare Advantage plan?
You can sign up for Medicare during your Medicare Initial Enrollment Period. This period includes the month you turn 65, and the three months before and after. After you establish Medicare coverage, you can sign up for Medicare Advantage during the Medicare Advantage Annual Enrollment Period from October 15 to December 7 every year.
Do I have to reapply for Medicare Advantage every year?
You don’t have to reapply every year for Medicare Advantage coverage. You can review your plan and make changes during the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period (OEP), from January 1 to March 31.
Can I qualify for a Medicare Advantage plan if I am younger than 65?
Anyone who qualifies for Medicare can enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan. Those who are disabled or have end-stage renal disease and receive Social Security, Civil Service or Railroad Retirement benefits usually qualify for Medicare and Medicare Advantage.
Can I have both a Medicare Advantage plan and a Medigap plan?
You will have to choose either Medicare Supplement Insurance or Medicare Advantage. Combining the two is not allowed. Read Medicare Advantage vs. Medicare Supplement Insurance Plans for help with determining which option is best for you.
Can I use my Medicare Advantage plan anywhere in the country?
Most plans have a service area with in-network providers you must use for routine and ongoing care. If you have to visit an emergency room, Medicare Advantage plans are required to cover you anywhere in the United States, but not internationally.
Concluding Thoughts on Medicare Advantage
To ensure you are adequately covered, consider adding a medicare advantage plan.
Choosing a Medicare Advantage provider is a considerable health care and financial decision. Be sure to review your options before selecting a company that offers benefits you need at a cost that fits your budget.
The Best Medicare Advantage Companies
|Medicare Advantage Company||Best For|
|3||United Healthcare||Best Provider Network|
|4||SelectQuote Senior||Best Convenient Quotes|
|5||The Medicare Helpline||Best Plan Comparison|
|6||Health Plan Solution||Best Provider Selection|