Aetna vs. United Healthcare: An In-Depth Comparison

Kat Casna
Licensed Insurance Agent and Medicare Expert Writer
August 15, 2019

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

Availability
Aetna
United Healthcare

Access to provider networks

1.2 million providers worldwide, including over 700,000 primary care doctors and specialists 1

Over 1.3 million health care professionals and more than 6,000 hospitals and facilities 2

Medicare Advantage

45 states plus Washington DC

Nationwide

Medicare Supplement

49 states

Nationwide

Prescription Drug Plans

Nationwide

Nationwide

Plans types offered (nationwide)
Aetna
United Healthcare

Medicare Advantage

HMO, PPO, HMO-POS, SNP*

HMO, PPO, HMO-POS, PFFS, SNP*

Medicare Supplement

A, B, C, F, high deductible F, G, & N*

A, B, C, F, G, K, L, & N*

Prescription Drug Plans

3 plans

3 plans

Financial rankings
Aetna
United Healthcare
Standard & Poor'sBBB3AA-4

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 Type
Aetna7
United Healthcare8

HMO plans

Aetna Medicare Prime PlanAetna Medicare Select Plan

AARP MedicareComplete SecureHorizons FocusAARP MedicareComplete SecureHorizons Plan 1AARP MedicareComplete SecureHorizons Plan 2AARP MedicareComplete SecureHorizons PremierAARP MedicareComplete SecureHorizons Essential

PPO plans

Aetna Medicare Choice Plan

Not offered in 90067

PDPs

Aetna Medicare Rx SaverAetna Medicare Rx Value PlusAetna Medicare Rx Select

AARP MedicareRx WalgreensAARP MedicareRx PreferredAARP 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 Plan
Aetna9
United Healthcare (sold as AARP Medicare Supplement)10

Plan A

Yes

Yes

Plan B

Yes

Yes

Plan C

Yes

Yes

Plan D

No

No

Plan F

Yes

Yes

Plan G

Yes

Yes

Plan K

No

Yes

Plan L

No

Yes

Plan M

No

No

Plan N

Yes

Yes

High deductible F

Yes

No

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.

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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.

Kat Casna
Written by
Kat Casna
Kathryn is a Medicare and geriatric specialist who has appeared on Baby Boomers, OppLoans, and Best Company. Her readers don’t need a degree in government-speak to get the right coverage because Kathryn sifts through Medicare’s parts, plans, and premiums to distill only the most useful information. Her favorite place in the world is a hammock that swings peacefully between two crabapple trees somewhere in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest.
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