5-Star Medicare Advantage Plans & What Star Ratings Mean

5-Star Medicare Advantage Plans & What Star Ratings Mean

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A 5-star Medicare Advantage plan has the highest-possible quality rating from Medicare.gov, meaning that the plan has good customer satisfaction and provides access to needed care.

If a 5-star plan is offered in your area, you can switch to it at any time by using what is called a 5-star special enrollment period.

With this option, you don’t have to wait until the annual open enrollment period to change your coverage. For 2023, 5-star plans are offered in 36 states and Washington, D.C., and nearly a quarter of Medicare Advantage enrollees will have one of these top-rated plans.

What Medicare star ratings mean

A Medicare star rating is a plan’s overall performance and quality score that is calculated across a wide range of criteria including customer satisfaction, access to health care and the rate of receiving preventive care. The amount of information that goes into star ratings makes them one of the most important criteria for choosing the best Medicare coverage.

5 stars: Excellent
4 stars: Above average
3 stars: Average
2 stars: Below average
1 star: Poor
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Top 5-star Medicare Advantage plans

Medicare Advantage plans with 5 stars are top-tier plans that are considered "excellent" by the organization that runs Medicare, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

It's not easy for a plan to earn this top-performance rank. For 2023, a 5-star rating was only given to 11% of contracts for Medicare Advantage plans that include prescription drug coverage. An "above average" ranking is much more common: 4- and 4.5-star plans account for about 40% of all plans.

Most popular 5-star Medicare Advantage providers

AARP/UnitedHealthcare

  • Provider's star rating is moderate overall, but its 5-star plans are popular
  • Avg. cost of a 5-star plan: $37/mo.

Kaiser Permanente

  • Most plans have 5 stars
  • Limited doctor network
  • Avg. cost of a 5-star plan: $40/mo.

Blue Cross Blue Shield

  • Large network of doctors
  • Plan quality varies by location because BCBS subsidiaries operate independently
  • Avg. cost of a 5-star plan: $79/mo.

Cost of 5-star plans in 2023

For 2023, a 5-star Medicare Advantage plan with prescription drug coverage costs an average of $49 per month. But 5-star plans that cost $0 per month are available nearly everywhere that these top-ranking plans are offered. This means it's possible to get coverage that's cheap and high-quality.

The average rates of 5-star plans from the largest insurance companies are affordable. For example, 5-star Medicare Advantage plans from Cigna cost $11 per month, Humana's 5-star plans cost $17 per month and 5-star plans from AARP/UnitedHealthcare cost $37 per month.

Insurer
Average monthly cost of 5-star plans
Cigna$11
Humana$17
AARP/UnitedHealthcare$37
Kaiser Permanente$40
Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS)$79
Show All Rows

Medicare Advantage plans with prescription drug coverage

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Are 5-star plans worth it?

A 5-star Medicare plan is a good choice because its high ratings show the plan provides good customer service, has satisfied policyholders, is well-managed and provides effective health care across a range of needs including diabetes, heart disease and preventive care.

Plus, 5-star plans are not necessarily more expensive. The cost of a Medicare Advantage plan is not determined by its quality ratings. Instead, the cost is based on a plan's benefits, the size of the provider network, add-on perks and other policy details. This means it’s possible to get a 5-star Medicare Advantage plan that costs $0, a very good deal for a top-performing plan.

Are 5-star Medicare Advantage plans popular?

Medicare Advantage plans with 5 stars are popular in areas where they're available.

About 22% of policyholders are enrolled in a 5-star Medicare Advantage plan with prescription drug coverage for 2023, and only 11% of Medicare Advantage contracts in the country have 5 stars.

This year, there are fewer 5-star plans available because calculation changes made during the COVID-19 pandemic are being rolled back. Insurance companies were previously given more leeway, and as standards are returning to pre-pandemic methods, some plans that were 5 stars last year may now have 4.5 stars.


5-star special enrollment period

If a 5-star plan is available in your location, you can switch to it at any time during the year by using what's called a 5-star special enrollment period (SEP).

This means you can change your Medicare Advantage plan, even if it’s not Medicare open enrollment. By using 5-star special enrollment, you'll have easier access to the better-performing Medicare Advantage plans that are offered in your county.

You can only use a 5-star enrollment period once per year between Dec. 8 and Nov. 30. This timing is centered around the traditional fall open enrollment period, allowing changes at any time except the last week of open enrollment.

Even if a better-quality plan isn't your goal, those who have 5-star plans available can also use this enrollment period to change their medical benefits midyear. For example, if you were enrolled in a 4-star plan and you're unhappy with your coverage, you can change your benefits by switching to a 5-star plan.

This workaround can be useful in situations that occur during the policy year, such as if you have a health diagnosis that requires more medical care or if your plan has disadvantages like high copays. Keep in mind that even if your intent is to change your medical coverage, you'll only be able to use a 5-star enrollment period to switch to a 5-star plan.

Where can the 5-star special enrollment period be used in 2023?

A 5-star plan must be available in your area for you to be eligible to use the 5-star enrollment period. However, 5-star plans are more widely available than you may expect.

Five-star plans are available in 36 states and Washington, D.C. Plan availability changes by county, and top-rated plans are available in 34% of U.S. counties.

map of 5-star Medicare Advantage plans

States where 5-star Medicare Advantage plans are available:

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington, D.C.
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin

How Medicare star ratings are calculated

Each Medicare plan's overall star rating is a weighted average of several different data points. This means it's a robust measurement that can help you understand which are the best-performing Medicare plans in your area.

For Medicare Advantage plans with prescription drug coverage, 40 measurements are used in the overall score. This includes an analysis of both Part C medical benefits and Part D prescription drug benefits. For a stand-alone Medicare Part D plan for prescription drugs, 12 measurements are combined into the overall score.

The individual measurements are grouped into five categories, each revealing something different about the health insurance plan. For example, patient survey questions can reveal how satisfied policyholders are with their plan.

Star rating category
What it tells us
Patient experienceCustomer satisfaction
Process measurement for improving health statusRate at which policyholders use preventive care
Access to care and customer serviceHow well policyholders are served
Improvement measureHow a plan is changing each year
Health outcomesQuality of care and progress toward better health

To calculate the overall score, the 40 individual measurements for Part C and Part D are weighted based on which category they're in. For example, each measurement in the patient experience category will be worth two points. Improvement measures are worth five points, outcomes are worth three points, access measurements are worth two points and process measurements are worth one point each.

Medicare Part C star rating calculation

A Medicare Part C star rating is calculated by combining 28 measurements across the five categories. Patient experience has the largest impact on the overall score, accounting for 36% of the Part C star rating.

Medicare star ratings: Part C

Medicare Part C rating metric
Description from CMS
Rating of health planMembers' overall view of their health plan. (From survey)
Rating of health care qualityMember rating of the quality of the health care they received. (From survey)
Customer serviceHow easy it is for members to get information and help from the plan when needed. (From survey)
Complaints about the planPercentage of members filing complaints with Medicare about the health plan.
Members choosing to leave the planPercentage of plan members who chose to leave the plan.
Getting needed careEase of getting needed care and seeing specialists. (From survey)
Getting appointments and care quicklyHow quickly the member was able to get appointments and health care. (From survey)
Care coordinationHow well the plan coordinates members’ care including following up after tests and if doctors had accurate patient records. (From survey)

Medicare Part C rating metric
Description from CMS
Yearly flu vaccinePercentage of plan members who got a flu shot.
Breast cancer screeningPercentage of female plan members aged 52-74 who had a mammogram during the past two years.
Colorectal cancer screeningPercentage of plan members aged 50-75 who had appropriate screening for colon cancer.
Monitoring physical activityPercentage of senior plan members who discussed exercise with their doctor and were advised to start, increase or maintain their physical activity.
Care for older adults: medication reviewPercentage of plan members whose doctor or pharmacist reviewed a list of everything they take at least once a year (includes prescription and nonprescription drugs, vitamins, herbal remedies and other supplements).
Special needs plan (SNP) care managementPercentage of eligible SNP enrollees who received a health risk assessment (HRA) during the measurement year.
Care for older adults: pain assessmentPercentage of plan members who had a pain screening at least once during the year.
Osteoporosis management in women who had a fractureThe percentage of female enrollees aged 67 to 85 who broke a bone and who had either a bone mineral density (BMD) test or prescription for a drug to treat osteoporosis in the six months after the fracture.
Diabetes care: eye examPercentage of plan members with diabetes who had an eye exam to check for damage from diabetes during the year.
Diabetes care: kidney disease monitoringPercentage of plan members with diabetes who had a kidney function test during the year.
Rheumatoid arthritis managementThe percentage of plan members who were diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis during the measurement year and who got one or more prescriptions for an anti-rheumatic drug.
Reducing the risk of fallingThe percentage of Medicare members aged 65 and older who had a fall or had problems with balance or walking in the past 12 months and who received a recommendation for how to prevent falls or treat balance problems.

Medicare Part C rating metric
Description from CMS
Reviewing appeals decisionsHow often an independent reviewer upheld a plan's decision to deny coverage as a percentage of all appeals.
Plan makes timely decisions about appealsPercentage of coverage appeals that are processed in a timely way as a percentage of all the plan's appeals.
Call center: foreign language interpreter and TTYPercentage of time that TTY services and foreign language interpretation were available when needed by people who called the health plan’s prospective enrollee customer service phone line.

Medicare Part C rating metric
Description from CMS
Health plan quality improvementHow much the health plan’s performance improved or declined from one year to the next, based on star ratings.

Medicare Part C rating metric
Description from CMS
Diabetes care: blood sugar controlledPercentage of plan members with diabetes who had an A1C lab test during the year that showed their average blood sugar is under control.

Medicare Part D star rating calculation

Medicare Part D star ratings include 12 measurements across the five categories, and ratings apply to both stand-alone Part D plans and the prescription drug benefits included with most Medicare Advantage plans.

The health outcomes category has the largest impact on overall Medicare Part D star ratings, accounting for 41% of the overall score. This category looks at the rate at which most policyholders are filling their prescriptions, thus revealing if the plan's benefits for common medications are both affordable and accessible.

Medicare star ratings: Part D

Medicare Part D rating metric
Description from CMS
Medication adherence for diabetes medicationsPercentage of plan members with a prescription for diabetes medication who fill their prescription often enough to cover 80% or more of the time they are supposed to be taking the medication.
Medication adherence for hypertension (RAS antagonists)Percentage of plan members with a prescription for a blood pressure medication who fill their prescription often enough to cover 80% or more of the time they are supposed to be taking the medication.
Medication adherence for cholesterol (statins)Percentage of plan members with a prescription for a cholesterol medication who fill their prescription often enough to cover 80% or more of the time they are supposed to be taking the medication.
Statin use in persons with diabetes (SUPD)Percentage of plan members with diabetes who take the most effective cholesterol-lowering drugs to lower their risk of developing heart disease.

Medicare Part D rating metric
Description from CMS
Rating of drug planMember rating of the quality of the prescription drug plan. (From survey ratings)
Getting needed prescription drugsEase of getting medicines their doctor prescribed, including using the plan, local pharmacies and prescriptions by mail. (From survey)
Complaints about the drug planPercentage of members filing complaints with Medicare about the health plan.
Members choosing to leave the planPercentage of plan members who chose to leave the plan.

Medicare Part D rating metric
Description from CMS
Drug plan quality improvementHow much the drug plan’s performance improved or declined from one year to the next, based on star ratings.

Medicare Part D rating metric
Description from CMS
Call center: foreign language interpreter and TTYPercentage of time interpreter and TTY was available for those who needed it, out of the total number of attempted contacts with these services.

Medicare Part D rating metric
Description from CMS
MPF price accuracyAccuracy of pricing between what members actually pay for their drugs versus the plan's drug prices on the Medicare Plan Finder.
MTM program completion rate for CMRMembers who had a pharmacist or other health professional help them understand and manage their medications.

How to use star ratings to choose a plan

When choosing a Medicare Advantage plan, we recommend that shoppers weigh three factors in tandem:

  • Overall star rating
  • Cost
  • Medical benefits

The best plan balances all three factors — a plan won't be a good fit if it is too expensive, is poorly rated or doesn't have the right level of coverage for you.

We recommend you start by looking at the top-rated plans in your area including 5-star plans and 4.5-star plans. Then compare the costs and medical benefits offered by these options.

We generally recommend enrolling in the highest-star plan you can because this can help you feel confident that you'll get hassle-free coverage. However, there are times when it may be worth it to choose a lower-star plan.

For example, a 4- or 4.5-star plan may be a better choice than a 5-star plan if:

  • Your preferred doctor was in that plan network
  • The plan's benefits better match your medical needs, such as providing specialized cancer treatment
  • The plan's list of covered medications is a better match for your current prescriptions

When do Medicare star ratings come out?

CMS star ratings are released each October before fall open enrollment. While there is no formal date set for the data release, it usually happens on Oct. 8, a week before Medicare open enrollment begins on Oct. 15.


Frequently asked questions

What are CMS Medicare star ratings based on?

Medicare star ratings are calculated using 40 criteria across Part C and Part D coverage. This includes survey data about member satisfaction, information about complaints that have been filed, outcomes such as how often those with diabetes fill their prescriptions and more. The in-depth calculation makes it a helpful tool for choosing the best Medicare Advantage plans.

What does a CMS 5-star rating mean?

A 5-star Medicare plan has earned the best possible rating for quality and performance. If a 5-star plan is available in your area, you can switch to it at any time using a 5-star special enrollment period.

What is the highest rating for a Medicare Advantage plan?

A 5-star Medicare Advantage plan has the highest possible rating. Plans are ranked on a scale of 1 star to 5 stars. Only 11% of Medicare contracts have a 5-star rating for 2023.

Can you get a $0 Medicare Advantage plan with 5 stars?

Yes, in 97% of the counties where 5-star plans are available, you can get a free Medicare Advantage plan that also has 5 stars. However, the cost of a plan is largely determined by the plan's level of medical benefits. For example, a 5-star plan costing $0 would be high-quality, but you may also have to pay more when you receive medical care.

Why are star ratings important when choosing a Medicare plan?

Medicare star ratings tell you about a plan's quality and performance across a range of criteria. This can tell you the rate of customer satisfaction, how well policyholders are served and if the plan helps policyholders to become healthier.


Methodology

Data and analysis are based on Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) public use files, fact sheets and technical notes. Medicare Advantage analysis only includes plans that include prescription drug coverage and excludes employer-sponsored plans, special needs plans, PACE plans, sanctioned plans and health care prepayment plans (HCPPs).

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Callers to QWIS will be directed to a licensed and certified representative of Medicare Supplement insurance and/or Medicare Advantage HMO, HMO SNP, PPO, PPO SNP and PFFS organizations. Calls to QWIS will be routed to a licensed agent who can provide you with further information about the insurance plans offered by one or more third-party partners of QWIS. Each of the organizations they represent has a Medicare contract. Enrollment in any plan depends on contract renewal.

Availability of benefits and plans varies by carrier and location and may be limited to certain times of the year unless you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period. QWIS does not offer every plan available in your area. Any information provided is limited to those plans offered in your area. Please contact Medicare.gov or 1-800-MEDICARE to get information on all of your options.

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