Find Cheap Medicare Plans in Your Area
The best-quality Medicare Advantage plans in California are from Kaiser Permanente and Sharp Health Plan, two companies with 5-star ratings from Medicare.
If you're looking for a cheap Medicare Advantage plan, Molina and Central Health have low rates, each less than $10 per month for a plan on average. However, the overall quality won't be as good as the top-ranking companies.
And for those who want a plan that offers more doctor flexibility, UnitedHealthcare/AARP and Aetna are good companies that offer PPO plans and have a large network of medical providers.
In California, it costs an average of $21 per month for a Medicare Advantage plan with prescription drug coverage. That's cheaper than the nationwide average. However, plan options, availability and costs vary widely throughout the state.
How we chose these Medicare plans: Our recommendations are based on Medicare Advantage plans with prescription drug coverage. We compared average costs and quality ratings, and when there was a tie, we considered other plan features such as deductibles and availability.
List of Medicare Advantage plans in California
Kaiser Permanente and Sharp Health Plan have the highest possible performance ratings of 5 stars. This top star rating is not common nationally, and only 16% of all Medicare Advantage plans have 5 stars. Additionally, California residents have other well-rated companies to choose from including Essence Healthcare with an average of 4.8 stars and SCAN Health Plan with 4.5 stars. Molina and Innovative Integrated Health are the cheapest companies in California because they both only offer $0 plans.
Avg. monthly cost
|Molina Healthcare of California||3.5||$0|
|Innovative Integrated Health Community Plans||Unknown||$0|
|Clever Care Health Plan||Unknown||$8|
|Central Health Medicare Plan||3.5||$10|
|Imperial Health Plan of California Inc.||2.5||$10|
|Brand New Day||3.5||$13|
|Alignment Health Plan||4.0||$15|
|Inter Valley Health Plan||4.0||$15|
|Anthem/Blue Cross Blue Shield||3.6||$18|
Average cost is based on California's Medicare Advantage plans. Star ratings represent the national average for each company. If a company's star rating was unavailable, its parent company's rating was displayed. Unknown star ratings are because plans are too new to be measured.
Find Cheap Medicare Plans in Your Area
Medicare Advantage availability in California
UnitedHealthcare/AARP and Kaiser Permanente are the most widely available of the 21 companies that offer Medicare Advantage plans in California. UnitedHealthcare/AARP operates in 37 counties, and Kaiser Permanente operates in 31 counties.
The availability of Medicare Advantage plans will have a big impact on your coverage options including which insurance companies you can choose from and how much a plan will cost. Unlike many other states, there aren't any insurance companies available throughout the entirety of California. Instead, options change by region and county. Ultimately, this variability means that the best plan in one part of California will differ from another area.
The number of plans you can buy also varies widely between counties, ranging from no options available to more than 60.
Large selection and affordable options in southern California: In general, southern California counties will have the biggest selection of plans, in part because they're the largest counties in the state. This also means there are plenty of low-cost options. For example, in Los Angeles, San Bernardino and San Diego counties, where there are more than 60 plans to choose from, average costs range from $9 to $13 per month.
Limited selection and sometimes expensive plans in other parts of the state: In other parts of the state, there are much fewer options, and in 17% of California's counties, only one or two insurance companies sell Medicare Advantage plans. In some of these cases, options can be expensive, and in Humboldt and Monterey counties, where only one insurance company offers plans, monthly costs average $75 to $153.
No Medicare Advantage plans offered in a quarter of the state: In 24% of California's counties, mostly in the eastern and northern parts of California, there are no Medicare Advantage plans available.
If you live in the parts of California where Medicare Advantage plans are expensive or unavailable, we recommend that you get coverage through Original Medicare and then add on a Medicare Supplement plan to reduce medical costs and a Medicare Part D plan for prescription drug coverage.
Top-ranking Medicare Advantage plans in California
Kaiser Permanente and Sharp Health Plan are the two best-rated insurance companies for Medicare Advantage in California.
Both companies have a Medicare star rating of 5 out of 5, according to Medicare's governing agency. Earning this top star rating is very impressive because it combines more than 40 measurements of performance and quality, including survey results from current policyholders.
The 5-star plans also have a unique advantage because if you live in an area where a 5-star plan is available, you can change to that plan at any time of the year, even if it's not Medicare open enrollment.
Kaiser Permanente offers Medicare Advantage plans to the majority of California's residents, making it the most widely available option for top-quality coverage.
Kaiser's level of quality is so impressive that the company is also one of the best Medicare Advantage companies in the country. Plus, surveyed policyholders are very satisfied with their coverage, giving high ratings to both the plan itself and the quality of the health care.
The downside is that Kaiser Permanente only offers HMO plans with a limited network. This means you'll typically only be covered for health care at a Kaiser health facility. (The exception is if you're traveling outside of the plan's service area when you'll be covered at any facility for urgent or emergency care.)
For those who want maximum choice over their health care providers, a plan from Kaiser would not be the best fit. Instead, you can get more flexibility about your doctors by choosing a PPO plan from AARP/UnitedHealthcare.
In most California counties where Kaiser offers plans, residents can choose between two Medicare Advantage plans, both of which have a $0 deductible, which means the plan's benefits will start right away.
The Kaiser Permanente Senior Advantage Basic costs between $0 and $25 per month. With this cheaper plan, you'll usually pay a little more for medical care. Therefore, it's a good choice for those who expect to need routine or moderate amounts of health care. It costs about $25 for a specialist visit and $25 for an X-ray, and an in-patient hospital stay starts at $260 per day. Enrollees have some coverage for vision, dental and hearing, and there's a $6,700 out-of-pocket maximum.
The Kaiser Permanente Senior Advantage Enhanced is more expensive, between $30 and $85 per month. But medical services will cost less: $15 for a specialist visit, $5 for an X-ray and an inpatient hospital stay starting at $200 per day. These savings can add up for someone who needs significant amounts of care, and for those who need surgery or other major procedures, the plan has an out-of-pocket maximum of $4,900, giving you better protection from high costs. The dental benefits are also better with some coverage for periodontics and extractions.
When choosing between plans, the best option for you will be determined by your expected medical needs. For example, in Marin County, the Enhanced plan costs $60 more per month than the Basic plan. In this case, spending more per month would only be worth it if it saved you $720 in medical costs for the year.
Sharp Health Plan
- 5.0 stars
- Average cost: $19 per month
Medicare Advantage from Sharp Health Plan is a good deal, providing high-quality coverage at affordable prices.
However, plans are only available in San Diego County. That availability is unlikely to change soon because the insurance from Sharp Health Plan is paired with medical care from Sharp HealthCare facilities, which are located in the San Diego area.
Yet for those who have access, Medicare plans from Sharp Health provide a high-quality alternative to Kaiser Permanente while also providing access to a different set of doctors and hospitals.
Sharp Health offers three Medicare Advantage plans in California — all of which are HMOs, so you'll have no coverage for most out-of-network care. All three plans also have a zero deductible for medical care or prescription drugs. The three plans have a very low out-of-pocket maximum of $2,900 for covered medical services, a great benefit for those concerned about high health care costs. All plans also cover telehealth, vision, dental and hearing.
We recommend the Sharp Direct Advantage VIP Plan, which costs $0 per month. Even though it has the same price as the Sharp Direct Advantage Gold Card plan, the VIP plan has lower copayments for some services like specialist appointments and outpatient hospital procedures. The VIP plan also provides more comprehensive dental coverage. Plus, generic drugs only cost $2 to $8 per prescription.
Best cheap Medicare Advantage in California
The two overall cheapest Medicare Advantage providers in California are Molina and Innovative Integrated Health, which only offer $0 plans. However, rating data about Innovative Integrated Health from Medicare has not yet been released, and shoppers should be cautious until more is known about the company's quality and performance.
We also recommend Central Health Medicare Plan as one of the best cheap Medicare Advantage providers in California. Even though the average cost is $10 per month, there are still $0 plans available, and it has the same average 3.5-star rating as Molina.
Molina Healthcare of California
- 3.5 stars
- Average cost: $0 per month
All of Molina's Medicare Advantage plans in California cost $0 per month. And with an average rating of 3.5 stars, the company is a good option for cheap plans.
Even though Molina's star rating is not as high as other companies, it shows members are generally satisfied with their coverage. Policyholders gave the plans a 4-star rating overall and 4 stars for the quality of health care. However, ratings for customer service weren't as strong, and the company only received 2 stars for members' ability to get appointments quickly and access information when needed.
There are two plans offered in California: Molina Medicare Choice Care and Molina Medicare Choice Care Select. Both plans have a $0 medical deductible, providing good coverage for an affordable price. And both of Molina's plans are HMOs, which means you typically won't have coverage for out-of-network care.
We recommend Molina Medicare Choice Care because it has better benefits in multiple categories without being any more expensive. Compared to the Select plan, Molina Medicare Choice Care has a lower drug deductible ($125 versus $480), lower medical copayments ($25 for urgent care versus $65) and several add-on benefits including coverage for hearing aids, dental care and vision.
Central Health Medicare Plan
- 3.5 stars
- Average cost: $10 per month
Central Health, a subsidiary of Bright Health, offers cheap Medicare Advantage in California with several plans that cost $0 per month.
Note that there can be some confusion about the company name. In addition to Central Health Plan of California, there's a separate company called Central Health that provides Medicaid plans in Austin, Texas.
In many California counties, Central Health offers three Medicare Advantage plans — Medicare, Savings and Premier. All three plans are HMOs, and costs range from $0 to $33.
We recommend the Central Health Medicare Plan, which has excellent benefits and still only costs $0 per month. The plan has no deductible for medical care or prescription drugs, $0 copays for many medical services including doctor appointments, X-rays, urgent care and hospital stays. There's also a $990 out-of-pocket maximum, providing a very low limit on how much you could have to spend on medical care. Plus, there are add-on benefits for dental, hearing aids, vision and wellness.
However, there are a few downsides. Many of the company's Medicare Advantage policyholders have had negative experiences. The health plan has only 1 out of 5 stars in three important categories: how easy it is to get care and see specialists, the speed of getting health care and the quality of the health care received.
These issues are likely due to the network of medical providers and the extra challenges of getting doctor referrals and prior authorization. Before signing up, we recommend that you check to see if the doctors you want to work with are included in the plan's network.
Best Medicare Advantage plans for provider flexibility
We recommend AARP/UnitedHealthcare and Aetna as two of the best overall Medicare Advantage providers in California for provider flexibility. Both offer PPO plans, have above-average star ratings, are broadly available through California and offer affordable options starting at $0 per month.
While the PPO plans give you more flexibility over where you get health care, these plans generally cost a little more money because they offer coverage for out-of-network care. And sometimes, the benefits with a PPO plan won't be as good as an HMO plan because there's a trade-off to get the provider flexibility.
AARP/UnitedHealthcare is one of the best overall Medicare Advantage providers in California, providing flexible coverage while also having a good rating of 4.2 stars.
Whether the plan is sold under the name UnitedHealthcare or AARP, your insurance will be through UnitedHealthcare. The AARP-branded plans are due to a marketing agreement between the two companies.
For those who want access to a large number of doctors and medical facilities, we recommend the PPO plan, AARP Medicare Advantage Choice. It costs $57 per month, on average, and has no deductible for medical care or prescription drugs, so you'll get the full benefits of the plan right away.
With the PPO plan, you'll have coverage for medical care that's outside of the plan's network of providers, though you'll pay a little more. For example, an in-network specialist appointment costs $45, and the cost is $65 if you go outside of the network. Having out-of-network coverage is great for frequent travelers, those who spend time outside of the plan's service area and those who are willing to pay more to see a doctor of their choosing.
The downside of this PPO plan is it has a higher out-of-pocket maximum than many HMO plans offered by UnitedHealthcare. This plan caps your medical spending at $6,700 for in-network services, on average, and $8,700 for both in-network and out-of-network services. This is most relevant for those who expect to need surgery or other expensive procedures.
If you are willing to limit your coverage to in-network care with an HMO plan, a $0 Medicare Advantage plan from UnitedHealthcare gives you a lower out-of-pocket maximum of around $3,000 to $5,000. This can help you reduce your costs.
Plus, an HMO plan from UnitedHealthcare may still offer access to a broad selection of providers. As a national company, its large network of affiliated doctors can give you more provider choice than a regional company, even while staying in the network.
Aetna stands out for its low-cost PPO plans that give you flexibility with your medical care at affordable rates that start at $0 per month.
At a company level, Aetna's star rating of 3.8 is lower than UnitedHealthcare's. However, Aetna's PPO plans average 4.2 stars. This means that Aetna's PPO plans offered in your area could be both high quality and low cost.
The Aetna Medicare Elite Plan (PPO) costs $0 per month and has a $750 deductible. You'll have to pay more to get health care outside of the plan's network, but it can be worth it in some situations. For example, an in-network specialist appointment would cost $25, but if you wanted to get a second opinion from a doctor that's not in the network, Aetna would pay 55% of the cost and you would pay 45%.
The plan has no deductible for prescription drugs and no cost for any generic prescription. There's also coverage for vision, dental and hearing aids. However, if you expect to need expensive medical treatments, the plan has a high out-of-pocket maximum that caps your spending at $6,700 for in-network care and $11,300 for both in-network and out-of-network care.
California Medicare enrollment statistics
Medicare enrollees in California: 6.4 million
Number of Medicare providers operating in California: 21
Average monthly cost in California:
- Medicare Advantage: $21
- Medicare Part D: $56
Medicare Advantage enrollment (enrollment as a percentage of all Medicare beneficiaries)
- National average: 42%
- California: 45%
- San Bernardino County: 58%
- Los Angeles County: 51%
- San Diego County: 49%
- El Dorado County: 38%
- Tulare County: 26%
- San Luis Obispo County: 20%
- Mendocino County: 9%
Medicare eligibility in California and how to apply
- Eligibility: Medicare eligibility is the same in California as it is in the rest of the country. You're eligible for Medicare when you turn 65 or if you qualify through a disability or medical condition.
- Initial enrollment: The first step to getting Medicare is to apply for benefits through the Social Security Administration. This process confirms your eligibility, and after it's complete, you'll get a Medicare card with your Medicare number.
- Choose the type of Medicare: There are two categories of coverage to choose between — a Medicare Advantage plan or Original Medicare. Medicare Advantage is through a private insurance company that bundles together multiple types of benefits such as medical care, prescription drugs and dental. Plans can vary as to what's included and the level of coverage. Original Medicare (also called Parts A and B) is through the federal government and is standardized to usually pay 80% of your medical and hospital costs. Enrollees can then add on a Medicare Part D plan for prescription drug coverage and a Medicare Supplement plan to improve medical benefits.
- Compare options and availability: The availability of Medicare Advantage plans varies throughout California. So whether or not it's a good deal may depend on where you live. On the other hand, Original Medicare is available everywhere, and nearly all doctors in the county accept Medicare.
- Get quotes and compare costs: In California, a Medicare Advantage plan costs between $0 and $269 per month. To find out what options are available in your county, use the Medicare Plan Finder tool or request Medicare quotes from an insurer or broker.
- When you can sign up for Medicare Advantage: You cannot be denied coverage if you apply for a Medicare Advantage plan during your initial enrollment period, during one of the open enrollment periods or if you qualify for a special enrollment period.
- California Medicare resources: There are several ways to get free assistance when deciding between plans. The California Department of Insurance provides assistance with insurance questions, the California Department of Aging provides Medicare counseling through the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP) and the California Department of Health Care Services can tell you if you qualify for Medi-Cal, California's Medicaid program.
Frequently asked questions
Who has the best Medicare coverage in California?
Kaiser Permanente and Sharp Health Plan have the highest-rated Medicare Advantage plans in California. If you're looking for a plan that offers more provider flexibility, AARP/UnitedHealthcare has a large provider network and offers PPO plans that provide out-of-network coverage.
Does California have Medicare PPO plans?
Yes, there are Medicare Advantage PPO plans offered in California from five companies: AARP/UnitedHealthcare, Aetna, Alignment Health Plan, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Wellcare. Availability and options vary by county.
How much is Medicare Advantage in California?
In California, a Medicare Advantage plan costs an average of $21 per month, but options can range from $0 to as high as $269 per month. In general, a basic, low-cost plan is a good choice for enrollees with typical or moderate health care needs. Those with ongoing health issues or who expect to need expensive health care procedures will usually get a better deal by paying more for a plan with better benefits.
Is Covered California a Medicare plan?
No, Covered California is the state marketplace for individual or small business health insurance. These are traditional health insurance plans for those who aren't eligible for Medicare. To learn which Medicare plans are offered in your California county, start your search with the Medicare Plan Finder.
What's the Medicare Savings Program in California?
The Medicare Savings Program (MSP) provides discounts on monthly insurance costs, deductibles or copayments. It's managed at the state level by Medi-Cal, California's Medicaid program. Within the savings program, there are several benefit options, each with its own qualification criteria. Contact your county's Health Care Services department to see if you qualify.
Methodology and sources
Medicare plan data was sourced from the 2022 public use files from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Our analysis of Medicare Advantage plans in California excludes plans that do not include prescription drug coverage, special needs plans (SNPs), Medicare-Medicaid plans and employer group plans. Comparisons were made by cost, coverage and quality. When calculating averages, we combined affiliated companies.