If you are on Medicare, or are a caregiver for someone who is, the U.S. News Best Medicare Plans site can help you navigate the options and get the right medical coverage. Its guides can help you decide whether original Medicare is the best option or whether to look at Medicare Advantage plans, which are offered by insurance companies to provide Medicare coverage, or to consider adding a drug plan or a Medigap plan instead. It's important to look at the monthly premiums of a Medicare Advantage plan versus Medigap, the benefits, whether your doctors and hospitals are in the network, and other factors. We also talk about picking a good drug plan, either added on to original Medicare, or bundled with a Medicare Advantage Plan.
Methodology for the 2014 Best Medicare Advantage Plans
U.S. News used data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), including its rating of each Medicare Advantage plan. CMS scores each Medicare plan from one to five stars, in half-star intervals. For an insurer to make the U.S. News list, its Medicare Advantage plans available in a given state had to earn an average rating of at least 4.5 out of 5 stars, and all of its plans in the state had to earn at least 3 stars. This assures that companies on our "Best" list maintain a consistent quality across all their plans. We found that even with a large state like California, where 27 companies offer plans, very few companies tend to offer top-rated plans consistently. (Just one company, Kaiser Permanente, made the list in California, for example.) In 19 states, no company met our criteria. Some companies met our criteria in multiple states.
Methodology for the 2014 Best Medicare Part D Plans
We used the CMS five-star system for all Part D (prescription drug) plans. We grouped the 2014-year star ratings by company and within each state, then averaged each company's ratings in that state. For an insurer to make this U.S. News list, its Part D plans available in a given state had to earn an average rating of at least 4 out of 5 stars, and all had to earn at least 3 stars. Each state in the country has one or more companies on our list. A few companies do well across many states, such as Stonebridge, which qualified in 49 of 50 states as well as the District of Columbia.
More About Best Medicare Plans
In addition to rating insurers, U.S. News has republished the CMS star ratings for each Medicare Advantage plan and Part D plan in the country. Plans are searchable by ZIP code from the U.S. News Medicare homepage or the search box at the top of every page on Medicare. By default, Medicare Advantage plans with drug coverage are displayed, but you can click to see Part D plans only, or Medicare Advantage plans without drug coverage. Use the search refine dropdowns and checkboxes on the left side to narrow down plans according to your criteria. Note, for example, there are Medicare Advantage plans with a $0 premium, though that is zero dollars on top of what a person on original Medicare already pays; that amount is automatically deducted from the person's Social Security check. If you would like to buy the plan or find more information from a licensed sales agent, we partner with eHealth.com, an internet-based broker licensed in all states to sell Medicare plans. You can also go to the official government site, medicare.gov, and look up the plan there as well. Another important factor to consider is the drug coverage you may need. Drug plans will pay different amounts on drugs, or even change their pricing year-to-year. You may want to take a list of your existing medications and input them into medicare.gov's site or ehealth.com, and either site will show you plans that support your drugs, as well as the most cost-effective plans.