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What's the best Medicare plan? Hundreds of Medicare Advantage, Part D drug plans and Medigap plans exist to choose from. These 22 are the best.

By Andrea Bonner
Updated June 29, 2020

If you want to boost your basic Medicare coverage and lower your Medicare expenses, you have almost countless options to do so.

You have a limited amount of time to make a choice — delay, and you could be subject to late enrollment fees, more expensive premiums, fewer Medicare plan options, and even gaps in coverage.

The best time to choose a Medicare plan is when you're first eligible for Medicare. This is a seven-month period called your Initial Enrollment Period. It begins three months before the month your turn 65, includes your birthday month, and ends three months after your birthday month.

In general, these are your coverage options:

But how can you narrow down these options and find the best Medicare plan for you? You must first understand your options, then find a plan that meets your needs and your budget from a company you trust.

What Are My Medicare Plan Options?

Medicare plans come in all different shapes and sizes. Some plans — like Medicare Advantage — stand on their own and provide comprehensive coverage. Other plans — like Part D and Medigap plans — must be used in combination with Original Medicare. Your options for Medicare coverage fall into four broad categories:

Original Medicare

Medicare Parts A and B cover many of your basic healthcare expenses. Put simply, Part A covers hospital and inpatient care, while Part B covers routine care like doctor visits.

Medicare isn't free, and there is a long list of essential services that it won't cover (vision exams, dental care and much more). You'll also be responsible for out-of-pocket costs including a Part B premium, Part A and Part B deductibles, copays, coinsurance and more.

Medicare Advantage

Also known as Medicare Part C, Medicare Advantage plans replace your Original Medicare coverage. When you first enroll in Medicare, you would choose a Part C plan instead of Original Medicare — not in addition to it. Medicare Advantage plans are offered by private insurance companies contracted with Medicare.

The types of Medicare Advantage plans available to you depend on your location. A Medicare beneficiary in Arizona will have different plan options than a beneficiary in Illinois. All Medicare Advantage plans must cover everything Original Medicare covers. Beyond that, plans will vary in their coverage of extra services and costs (like premiums, deductibles and copays).

In many cases, Medicare Advantage plans include prescription drug coverage — but if you choose a plan that doesn't, you can still buy a Part D plan. Some Medicare Advantage plans even include extra services like gym memberships, over-the-counter medications, home modifications and transportation.

Medicare Part D

This is one option you have for prescription drug coverage. Original Medicare typically only covers medications you'd receive in connection with a hospital stay or surgery. It will not cover prescriptions you regularly take on your own, at home (like blood pressure medication or antidepressants, for example).

For that reason, many Medicare enrollees sign up for a Part D plan in addition to their Original Medicare coverage. Like Medicare Advantage plans, Part D plans come in all different varieties.

The main thing you want to look at when choosing a plan is to make sure it covers any medications you currently take. Each plan has its own formulary — a list of medications it covers and at what cost. When you compare Part D plans, you'll want to have a list of your current medications on hand so you can compare prices and choose a plan that fits your budget.

Medicare Supplement

Medigap plans fill in the gaps in your Original Medicare coverage. They will help pay for your Part A and B out-of-pocket costs, and can prevent those costs from spiraling out of control.

Many of these plans also add coverage outside of the US (unlike Original Medicare, which is only available in the US). But beyond that, Medigap plans don't cover services beyond what Original Medicare covers.

Beginning in 2020, Medicare enrollees have a choice of eight different Medigap plans to choose from, each with different levels of coverage and costs. Like Medicare Advantage, these plans are offered by private insurers. That means you'll have a different choice of plans depending on your location (not every plan is available in every state), and your premium will vary also.

What Is the Best Medicare Plan?

If you decide to stick with Original Medicare, you won't have to choose a particular plan — Part A and Part B are the same for everyone. But if you've decided on additional coverage — like Medicare Advantage, Part D or a Medigap plan — you have some work to do. Where do you begin? With so many plans available, there's not just one plan that's "the best." There's only the plan that's best for your specific situation.

What Insurance Companies Sell Medicare Plans?

There are dozens of private insurance companies that offer Medicare Advantage, Part D and Medigap plans. Some companies offer them nationally, while others are regional and only available in some states. The number of individual plans is staggering. For example, in 2020 there are over 900 Part D plans available across all insurers in all states. Here is a range of the costs you could see:

  • The plan with the lowest premium is the Clear Spring Health Premier Rx plan ($12.80 per month, with a $435 deductible).

  • The plan with the highest premium is the Blue Cross Rx Plus plan ($191.40 per month, with a $0 deductible)

When you compare plans, the first thing you should do is find out what plans are available in your area, so you don't spend time considering plans that won't be available to you.

Researching your Medicare plan options?

Use Star Ratings to Find Your Best Medicare Plan

If you think you have to be an insurance expert to compare Medicare Advantage and Part D plans, you might be surprised: Medicare rates plans use a Star Rating System to make it easier to compare plans.

Keep in mind if a plan is new, there may not be enough data available yet for it to have a star rating — that doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad plan. Here's how the Medicare Star Rating System works:

Medicare Advantage plans that include prescription drug coverage are rated up to 45 quality measures. Advantage plans that don't include drug coverage are rated up to 33 quality measures. Standalone Part D plans are rated on up to 14 measures. Those measures fall into a few broad categories:

Medicare Advantage plans:

  • Preventive care (e.g., screenings, tests and vaccines)

  • Managing chronic conditions (e.g., diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis)

  • Responsiveness and care

  • Problems and complaints (plus how many members drop the plan)

  • Customer service

Part D plans:

  • Drug prices and patient safety

  • Overall experience of members

  • Problems and complaints (plus how many members drop the plan)

  • Customer service

Medicare gives each plan an overall star rating, plus a specific rating for each category. That way, you can compare plans based on the specific features that are most important to you.

For example, if you were comparing several four-star plans, and customer service is very important to you, you could compare the customer service ratings of each plan.

Star ratings can give you valuable insight into the performance of each plan. However, you'll also want to think about the following factors:

  • Coverage

  • Pricing

  • Provider network

  • Pharmacy network

Five-Star Top Performing Medicare Advantage Plans

If you want the very best Medicare plans, look no further than five-star plans. The good news? The number of five-star plans is increasing every year. You are more likely than ever to find the best Medicare plan for you from among the 2020 five-star plans. Below, you'll find Medicare's highest-performing Advantage and Part D plans based on data from 2017–2020.

Plan/Parent Company

State(s) Available

KelseyCare Advantage (Kelsey-Seybold Medical Group)

Texas

Kaiser Foundation Health Plan

California

Colorado

Georgia

Hawaii

Maryland

Virginia

Washington

CarePlus Health Plans (Humana)

Florida

Florida Blue Medicare (Guidewell Mutual Holding Company)

Florida

Martin's Point Generation Advantage (Martin's Point Health Care, Inc.)

Maine

New Hampshire

Care Improvement Plus South Central (UnitedHealth Group)

New York

Tufts Associated HMO (Tuft's Health Plan, Inc.)

Massachusetts

Group Health Plan (HealthPartners, Inc.)

Minnesota

North Dakota

South Dakota

Wisconsin

Aetna Health Plans (CVS Health Corporation)

Maine

UnitedHealthcare Benefits of Texas (UnitedHealth Group)

Texas

Quartz Health Plans

Iowa

Illinois

Minnesota

Wisconsin

Healthspring of Florida (Cigna)

Florida

HealthSun Health Plans (Anthem)

Florida

Medical Associates Health Plan (Medical Associates Clinic, P.C.)

Iowa

Illinois

Nebraska

Don't see any five-star plans in your area? Don't worry. Keep reading for other options to find the best Medicare plan for you.

Medicare Plans: What's in a Name?

Five-star Medicare Advantage plans are available in many states — but not all of them. If your state isn't among those with five-star plans, don't worry: In 2020, over half of Medicare Advantage plans earned over four stars.

There's plenty of opportunity for you to find a high-quality plan that fits your needs and budget. They include well-known insurers like:

  • Humana

  • UnitedHealth Group

  • Blue Cross Blue Shield

  • CIGNA

  • Anthem

  • WellCare

These highly-rated plans also include insurers who aren't as well known, like:

  • Independence Health Group

  • Spectrum Health System

  • Cambia Health Solutions

  • Samaritan Health Services

  • Geisinger Health

  • Centene Corporation

The Best Medicare Plan for Your Needs and Budget

The lesson? Don't let name recognition, or lack thereof, influence you too much when deciding on the best Medicare Advantage or Medicare Part D plan.

Choosing a Medicare Advantage plan, Medicare Part D plan or Medigap plan can be complicated to newly eligible beneficiaries. There are literally hundreds of options, and many of them could fit your needs and your budget.

When you're ready to explore the plans available in your area, contact a licensed Medicare professional and compare the benefits of each plan to find the right match for you.

Andrea Bonner is a healthcare writer with more than 10 years of experience covering senior health. She is from the Raleigh-Durham area in North Carolina.