Aetna vs. UnitedHealthcare

In this article...
  • Aetna and UnitedHealthcare are both major providers of Medicare Advantage insurance plans. Our review outlines how these companies compare across a variety of metrics, such as Medicare plan quality, availability, costs and more.

Aetna and UnitedHealthcare each play a major role in the private Medicare insurance market. Beneficiaries have a lot of options when it comes to their Medicare benefits, and our review of these two health insurance companies below is designed to help consumers make the best coverage choice for their needs. 

Both Aetna and UnitedHealthcare offer all three types of private Medicare insurance: Medicare Advantage (Medicare Part C) plans, Medicare Part D prescription drug plans and Medicare Supplement Insurance (also called Medigap) plans.

Let’s see how Aetna and UnitedHealthcare stack up according to their Medicare plans networks, plan availability, costs and quality ratings. 

UnitedHealthcare: Wider Range of Medicare Advantage Plan Types

UHC logo

Aetna and UnitedHealthcare each sell the main types of Medicare Advantage plans, which typically include:

  • HMO plans (Health Maintenance Organization)
  • PPO plans (Preferred Provider Organization)
  • POS plans (Point-of-Service)
  • SNPs (Special Needs Plans)

However, Aetna’s selection of Special Needs Plans only includes those for dual-eligible beneficiaries (those who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid). Aetna does not sell Special Needs Plans for people who have chronic conditions. 

In addition to Dual-Eligible Special Needs Plans (D-SNP), UnitedHealthcare also sells Chronic Condition Special Needs Plans (C-SNP) and Institutional Special Needs Plans (I-SNP). 

Chronic Condition Special Needs Plans are tailored specifically to beneficiaries with certain conditions, and UnitedHealthcare’s plans include options for those with diabetes, chronic heart failure and/or cardiovascular disorders. 

Institutional Special Needs Plans are designed to meet the needs of beneficiaries under particular living circumstances. In the case of UnitedHealthcare, these include plans for those in assisted living homes and nursing homes.  

Both Aetna and UnitedHealthcare sell Medicare Advantage plans in every state (and Washington D.C.), except Alaska. 

Aetna: Higher Medicare Star Ratings

Every year, Medicare evaluates plans on a 5-star rating scale. the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) rates all Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D plans – and the companies who provide them – across various quality metrics such as customer service, patient health outcomes and more. 

For 2021, Aetna received an overall quality rating of four out of five stars.1 Plans and carriers who receive four stars or higher are considered "highly rated" by Medicare.

UnitedHealthcare earned a 3.5 Star Rating in 2021.2

Aetna vs. UHC: Medicare Part D and Medicare Supplement Plans

Medicare Part D plans provide coverage for prescription medications, which is not something typically covered by Medicare Part A or Part B (Original Medicare). 

Aetna and UnitedHealthcare each offer several different Medicare Part D plans, and each company sells these plans in all 50 states and Washington D.C. 

Each company offers a Part D plan with a low premium and high deductible, a plan with a high premium and low deductible and a plan with a mid-range premium and mid-range deductible to provide a plan option to consumers of every budget. (More on specific plan costs below.)

UnitedHealthcare utilizes many of the most popular pharmacies like Walgreens, along with OptumRx for mail-order prescriptions.

Aetna partners with CVS, Kroger, Costco, Safeway/Albertsons and other preferred pharmacies. Both carriers provide plenty of in-network pharmacy locations for a member’s needs. 

Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap) plans help pay for many of the out-of-pocket costs tied to Medicare Part A and Part B, such as deductibles, copayments and coinsurance. 

There are 10 standardized types of Medigap plans available in most states, each of which have benefits that are standardized by the federal government. 

Aetna offers seven different Medigap plans, while UnitedHealthcare offers eight different plans. Plan availability may vary where you live, however.

Medigap Plan Offered by Aetna Offered by UnitedHealthcare
Plan A
Plan B
Plan C*
Plan D  
Plan F*
Plan G
Plan K  
Plan L  
Plan M    
Plan N

*Plan F and Plan C are not available to new Medicare beneficiaries who first became eligible for Medicare after January 1, 2020. If you became eligible for Medicare before that date, you may be allowed to apply for either plan if they're available where you live. If you already have Plan F or Plan C, you may keep your plan.

You can see the list of benefits covered by each plan and learn more about how they can help you save money by reviewing the Medicare Supplement plans comparison chart.

Aetna vs. UnitedHealthcare: Provider Networks and Plan Availability

UnitedHealthcare and Aetna have similar network sizes. UnitedHealthcare claims 1.3 million health care professionals as part of its network, while Aetna reports 1.2 million.

You shouldn’t have trouble locating a doctor, specialist, hospital or pharmacy no matter which company you choose to do business with.  

UnitedHealthcare owns the largest market share of Medicare Advantage beneficiaries in the country. In 2020, 26% of all Medicare Advantage beneficiaries were part of a UnitedHealthcare Medicare plan.

Aetna claimed 11% of all Medicare Advantage beneficiaries, for the 4th-largest share in the market. 

Aetna vs. UnitedHealthcare Summary

Market share aside, the differences between UnitedHealthcare and Aetna Medicare plans are slim. UnitedHealthcare offers a more diverse lineup of Special Needs Medicare Advantage Plans and has a slightly larger network of health care providers. 

Aetna has slightly better quality ratings for its Medicare plans.

As you consider the right type of Medicare plan for your needs, you may want to consider comparing a range of plans that are available where you live, including how much they cost, what drugs they cover and whether or not your doctor is part of the plan network. 

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