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
|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|
|Plan types offered (nationwide)|
|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|
|Standard & Poor's (S&P)||BBB3||AA-4|
|Learn more||Speak to an Agent||Speak 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.
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.
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||Aetna||United Healthcare|
|HMO plans||Aetna 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 plans||Aetna Medicare Choice Plan||Not offered in 90067|
|PDPs||Aetna 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.
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||Aetna||United Healthcare (sold as AARP Medicare Supplement)|
|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.
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”
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