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Aetna and United Healthcare are both large companies that are popular among Medicare beneficiaries. That can make choosing between the two tough. In this head-to-head comparison, we break down what you need to know to make the right choice for your health care.

Aetna vs. United Healthcare: Company comparison

AetnaUnited Healthcare
Access to provider networks1.2 million providers worldwide, including over 700,000 primary care doctors and specialists 1Over 1.3 million health care professionals and more than 6,000 hospitals and facilities 2
Plan availability
Medicare Advantage45 states plus Washington DCNationwide
Medicare Supplement49 statesNationwide
Prescription Drug PlansNationwideNationwide
Plan types offered (nationwide)
Medicare AdvantageHMO, PPO, HMO-POS, SNP*HMO, PPO, HMO-POS, PFFS, SNP*
Medicare SupplementA, B, C, F, high deductible F, G, & N*A, B, C, F, G, K, L, & N*
Prescription Drug Plans3 plans3 plans
Financial rankings
Standard & Poor's (S&P) BBB3AA-4
Learn moreSpeak to an AgentSpeak to an Agent

Data effective 06/3/2019.

*Availability varies by state. May not include all plans.

Aetna vs. United Healthcare: Comparing access to provider networks

You have access to a huge provider network with either company. Aetna has approximately 1.2 million health care professionals, more than 700,000  primary care doctors and specialists, and 5,700 hospitals in its global network.5 United Healthcare’s network includes 1.3 million physicians and other health care professionals, and approximately 6,000 hospitals and other facilities.6

Provider networks are important if you enroll in a Medicare Advantage (MA) plan. This is because some of these plans require you to visit doctors, specialists, and facilities that are participating in the network. Because both companies offer similarly large networks, you could have access to a large pool of providers from whichever company you choose.

Aetna vs. United Healthcare: How plan availability may impact your decision

Both Aetna and United Healthcare offer Medicare Advantage, Medicare Supplement, and Part D prescription drug plans (PDPs). United offers each plan nationwide, while Aetna limits its Medicare Advantage plans to 45 states and Washington DC and its Medicare Supplement plans to 49 states. Aetna’s Part D plans are available nationwide.

Both companies offer similar types of plans, including HMO, PPO, HMO-POS, and SNP. United Healthcare also offers a PFFS plan.

Aetna vs. United Healthcare: Comparing the plans offered

When we sampled plans (we used the Los Angeles zip code 90067), both Aetna and United Healthcare offered several options. Note that United Healthcare’s Advantage and PDPs are sold under the AARP brand.

Medicare Advantage

We found that both companies offer several Advantage plans, but Aetna offers a PPO, while United Healthcare doesn’t. This means that if you want a plan that lets you see both in-network and out-of-network providers in this location, you won’t be able to choose Aetna.

Plan TypeAetnaUnited Healthcare
HMO plansAetna Medicare Prime Plan
Aetna Medicare Select Plan
AARP MedicareComplete SecureHorizons Focus
AARP MedicareComplete SecureHorizons Plan 1
AARP MedicareComplete SecureHorizons Plan 2
AARP MedicareComplete SecureHorizons Premier
AARP MedicareComplete SecureHorizons Essential
PPO plansAetna Medicare Choice PlanNot offered in 90067
PDPsAetna Medicare Rx Saver
Aetna Medicare Rx Value Plus
Aetna Medicare Rx Select
AARP MedicareRx Walgreens
AARP MedicareRx Preferred
AARP MedicareRx Saver Plus

Data effective 6/3/2019.

If you’re wondering about the difference between MA plan types, check out our page about HMO, PPO, and PFFS plans.

Medicare Supplement

If you want to keep Part A and Part B and get help covering some of the leftover costs, you may want to enroll in a Medicare Supplement plan. These plans help cover the costs of Medicare Parts A and B.

The Aetna and United Healthcare Medicare Supplement plans we sampled are similar, but there are a few differences. United Healthcare offers Plans K and L, but Aetna doesn’t. Aetna does offer a high deductible Plan F, however, which United Healthcare doesn’t. Both companies offer plans A, B, C, F, G, and N.

Medigap PlanAetnaUnited Healthcare (sold as AARP Medicare Supplement)
Plan AYesYes
Plan BYesYes
Plan CYesYes
Plan DNoNo
Plan FYesYes
Plan GYesYes
Plan KNoYes
Plan LNoYes
Plan MNoNo
Plan NYesYes
High deductible FYesNo

Data effective 6/6/2019. UnitedHealthcare search based on ZIP code 90067.

Part D prescription drug plans

Both Aetna and United Healthcare are popular for their Part D plans. Aetna’s Medicare RX Saver and MedicareRx Saver Plus plans, as well as three of United Healthcare’s AARP branded plans, are in the top-ten most popular plans.11

Both companies use large, well-known pharmacies as preferred providers. United Healthcare uses Walgreens for retail and OptumRx for mail-order prescriptions, while Aetna uses CVS, Safeway/Albertsons, Kroger, and Costco.

Aetna vs. United Healthcare: Comparing industry rankings

Standard & Poor’s, a financial rating company, gave United Healthcare an AA-,12 which is slightly stronger than Aetna’s BBB score.13 Both ratings suggest these companies aren’t likely to have problems paying their bills or honoring other financial commitments. Neither an AA- nor a BBB is Standard & Poor’s highest ranking, however.

Aetna vs. United Healthcare: Comparing company size

Both Aetna and United Healthcare are large—together they round out the top three of Becker’s Hospital Review’s list of largest insurers in America (with Anthem in the middle at number two). Even so, United Healthcare dwarfs Aetna with more than double the beneficiaries and more than triple the revenue.14

United Healthcare captures 25% of the entire Medicare Advantage market and 23% of the Part D market, making it the number one insurer in both realms. Meanwhile, Aetna comes in fourth, with 8% of the market share for both Medicare Advantage and Part D.15, 16

Final thoughts: Aetna and United Healthcare have similar offerings, but United Healthcare serves more people.

Both Aetna and United Healthcare offer similar types of plans and availability nationwide, including Medicare Advantage plans, Part D prescription drug plans, and Medicare Supplement plans. While both companies’ provider and hospital networks are similarly sized, United Healthcare serves far more Medicare beneficiaries than Aetna does.

Although each company has its strengths and weaknesses, Aetna and UnitedHealthcare both offer a variety of plans to suit your budget and needs. Talk to a licensed Medicare expert to find the right plan for you.

Sources

1. Aetna, “Aetna Facts
2. UnitedHealth Group, “Facts Q1: 2019
3. Standard and Poor’s, “Aetna Inc.
4. Standard and Poor’s, “UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company
5. Aetna, “Aetna Facts
6. UnitedHealth Group, “Facts Q1: 2019
7. Aetna Medicare, “Shop for Aetna Medicare Plans
8. UnitedHealthcare “Our Medicare Plan Types
9. Aetna Inc. “Outline of Coverage: Medicare Supplement Insurance
10. United Health Care Services, Inc. “AARP Medicare Supplement Plans
11. Kaiser Family Foundation, “Medicare Part D: A First Look at Prescription Drug Plans in 2019
12. Standard and Poor’s, “UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company
13. Aetna, “Aetna Inc.
14. Becker’s Hospital Review, “America’s Largest Health Insurers in 2018
15. Kaiser Family Foundation, “A Dozen Facts About Medicare Advantage
16. Kaiser Family Foundation, “Medicare Part D in 2018: The Latest on Enrollment, Premiums, and Cost Sharing

Content on this site has not been reviewed or endorsed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the United States Government, any state Medicare agency, or any private insurance agency (collectively “Medicare System Providers”). Eligibility.com is a DBA of Clear Link Technologies, LLC and is not affiliated with any Medicare System Providers.