What's the Best $0 Medicare Advantage Plan?

What's the Best $0 Medicare Advantage Plan?

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Among the national insurers, the best $0 Medicare Advantage plans are from AARP/UnitedHealthcare, Humana and Aetna.

Also called $0 premium plans, meaning they have no monthly cost, these Medicare Advantage plans typically have a basic set of benefits, making them a good deal for those who are healthy and only need moderate amounts of health care.

Free Medicare Advantage plans are widely available and are sold by 91% of companies. They're also a popular choice, and more than half of enrollees in a Medicare Advantage plan with prescription drug coverage choose a $0 plan.

Best-rated $0 Medicare Advantage plans

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  • 4.2 stars
  • Best overall benefits with a $5,418 average limit on health care spending

Read more: AARP/UHC Medicare Advantage Review

AARP/UnitedHealthcare (UHC) plans are known for having a good value on coverage. Plus, the company's $0 plans have better ratings and lower out-of-pocket limits than other major competitors.

Although benefits will vary based on the options offered in your area, many people will be able to get a $0 plan with an out-of-pocket limit of $5,000 or less. This can be a helpful protection against high medical costs if you do need significant health care.

Both HMO and PPO plans are offered for $0, and AARP/UHC plans frequently include lots of extras such as dental, vision and hearing aid coverage.

Prescription benefits are typically good, with about half of the $0 plans having no prescription drug deductible, and nearly all plans provide benefits during the prescription drug coverage gap.

Keep in mind that while the overall value is good, existing customers are lukewarm about their Medicare Advantage plans. Across all its plans, AARP/UHC has received 3.6 stars for policyholder feedback about its health coverage and 3.7 stars for its customer service. These ratings are lower than those of some providers like Kaiser Permanente, which stands out for its customer satisfaction.

Widely available $0 Medicare Advantage plans

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  • 4.1 stars
  • $0 plans sold in 48 states

Read more: Humana Health Insurance Review

Humana's $0 Medicare Advantage plans are offered in 87% of counties in the U.S. Typically these plans are called Humana Gold Plus or HumanaChoice, but the plan benefits vary by location.

Humana's HMO plans stand out as a particularly good choice because they generally have good medical benefits and a high overall performance of 4.4 stars. With an HMO, you won't have coverage for doctors outside of the plan's provider network, but this trade-off can be worth it for budget-conscious shoppers who are looking for a good deal.

At a national level, the benefits offered by Humana's $0 plans look very similar to what you can get with AARP/UnitedHealthcare. But because of how benefits can vary by location, Humana is a better deal than AARP/UnitedHealthcare in some places but not in others. For example, in New York, Minnesota and North Dakota, Humana's $0 plans are a much better deal with a $1,500 to $2,000 lower out-of-pocket maximum than AARP/UHC.

With the two companies having many similarities in national ratings, we recommend you compare the plans offered in your area by their benefits, in-network doctors and prescriptions to see if you'll get a better deal from a $0 plan offered by Humana or AARP/UnitedHealthcare.

Best prescription benefits with a free Medicare Advantage plan

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  • 4.1 stars
  • $75 average prescription deductible

Read more: Aetna Health Insurance Review

Aetna's $0 Medicare Advantage plans have an average prescription drug deductible of $75, which is lower than with the other major insurance companies. Plus, most of Aetna's free plans provide benefits during the coverage gap, also called the donut hole.

Aetna's $0 HMO plans can be an especially good deal for prescription benefits because about 79% of plans have no drug deductible. That means from day one of the policy, you'll only be charged a copay at the pharmacy.

As compared to all Aetna Medicare Advantage plans, its $0 options have a higher rating of 4.1 stars versus the company's average rating of 3.8 stars. This indicates that policyholders with a free plan are generally more satisfied with the value of their coverage.

However, despite the potential savings on prescriptions, policyholders who choose Aetna over AARP/UHC may pay more for medical care, and on average, Aetna's $0 plans have a $611 higher out-of-pocket limit than plans from AARP/UHC. For those who are prioritizing their prescription benefits, this trade-off may be worth it.

Other common $0 Medicare Advantage providers:

  • Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS): Each BCBS subsidiary operates independently. So although $0 Medicare Advantage plans from BCBS are widely available, coverage and customer satisfaction vary widely between locations. We can't universally recommend BCBS because in eight states, plans fall short with an average rating of 3.5 stars or lower. And in a separate set of 11 states, the coverage you get with $0 plans is not great, with out-of-pocket limits averaging $6,500 or higher.
  • Wellcare: Although Wellcare's $0 plans are widely offered, these $0 plans have a low average rating of 3.6 stars, and policyholders are frequently unsatisfied with their coverage. A Wellcare plan may be a good choice if you're interested in a "giveback plan" that provides bare-bones coverage while reducing the amount you have to pay for Medicare Part B. Otherwise, another insurance company is likely a better choice.

How can Medicare Advantage plans have $0 premiums?

A free Medicare Advantage plan means the amount that the insurance company receives from the government's Medicare program is enough to cover the cost of the plan. With these $0 premium plans, you don't have to pay an additional monthly fee to the insurance company.

How it works is that you pay into the government's Medicare program. For most people, this includes paying Medicare taxes while working to fund Medicare Part A, and then paying a monthly fee for Medicare Part B when you're enrolled in Medicare.

Then, the governmental Medicare program distributes funds to insurers, with a set amount provided for each Medicare Advantage enrollee. This is typically more than $1,000 per month, but the exact amount varies based on location and health risk factors.

While some Medicare Advantage plans charge an additional fee to enrollees on top of what they receive from the government, a free Medicare Advantage plan means there's no additional cost to the enrollee.

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When is it worth it to upgrade to a more expensive Medicare Advantage plan?

In general, free Medicare Advantage plans with basic benefits are best for those who have typical medical needs and are reasonably healthy.

It’s a good idea to pay more for a Medicare Advantage plan if the potential health care savings amount you can get from a more expensive plan is more than the extra monthly cost. For example, spending $30 per month ($360 per year) would be worth it if it saved you $360 on your annual health care spending.

For those who have higher medical needs, a more expensive plan can often be a net savings because it typically reduces health expenses through lower deductibles, copays and out-of-pocket limits.

You can calculate if it's worth it to upgrade by comparing the extra cost for a plan against the potential savings you're likely to get from the extra benefits. Remember to consider all types of coverage including medical care, prescriptions, dental, vision and hearing. With medical care, plans will cover the same essential services, and the difference will be how much you pay for them. But other areas of coverage such as comprehensive dental or hearing aid coverage may only be available with more expensive plans.


Frequently asked questions

How easy is it to get a free Medicare Advantage plan?

Free Medicare Advantage plans are widely available, and these $0 premium plans are offered by 91% of insurance companies that sell plans. Free plans are also popular, and 65% of Medicare Advantage enrollees (with prescription coverage) choose a $0 plan, according to the latest data.

Are $0 premium Medicare Advantage plans a good deal?

Yes, free Medicare Advantage plans can be a good deal because they help you keep your monthly costs low while providing a bundle of coverage that often includes prescriptions, dental and vision. However, the $0 plans are best suited for those who have moderate health needs, and those who need more significant amounts of medical services often save money with a more expensive plan that has better benefits.

How can a Medicare Advantage plan have no cost?

These bundled Medicare plans are administered by private insurance companies, but they're funded through the government's Medicare program. So a Medicare Advantage plan that costs $0 means you don't have to pay anything for benefits on top of the monthly amount that the insurance company receives from the government for your policy.

Which insurer has the best-rated free Medicare Advantage plans?

AARP/UnitedHealthcare has 4.2 stars for its $0 Medicare Advantage plans, making it the best-rated option that's widely available. However, those living in select areas will be able to get $0 plans with 5 stars from companies like Kaiser Permanente, Highmark and other regional insurance companies.

Sources and methodology

Medicare Advantage data on cost and star ratings is from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Average plan benefits and ratings only consider $0 Medicare Advantage plans, and we excluded PACE plans, special needs plans, Part B-only plans, employer-sponsored plans, Medicare-Medicaid plans and sanctioned plans. Additional sources include Medicare.gov and Kaiser Family Foundation.

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Free Medicare Advantage plans do have some costs

Remember that $0 premium Medicare Advantage plans mean you're not paying anything directly to the insurance company each month, but you'll still have expenses. With a free plan, you'll pay for some health care costs (deductibles, copays and prescription costs). There's also the fee you pay to the government for the Original Medicare program, which for most people is a monthly cost of $170.10 for Medicare Part B.

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