The Best Medicare Advantage Plans

Less than a quarter of beneficiaries are in top rated plans

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The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services rates the quality and performance of private Medicare Advantage plans annually, with five stars representing the best plans. The average number of stars is 3.27 for plans that will be offered in 2010, up from 3.10 in 2009. But only slightly more than half (59 percent) of plans, accounting for 85 percent of Medicare Advantage beneficiaries, were rated.

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Less than a quarter of Medicare Advantage enrollees (23 percent) are in a plan with four or more stars, according to a new analysis of 2010 plans by the Kaiser Family Foundation. In only three states – Massachusetts, Oregon, and Hawaii—were more than half of beneficiaries signed up for highly rated plans. Most states had less than 2 percent of Medicare Advantage recipients in plans with at least four stars.

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The quality of the plan varied considerably among the various types of Medicare Advantage plans. In general, not-for-profit Medicare Advantage plans scored significantly higher average ratings than for-profit plans, the Kaiser Family Foundation found. And older plans with contracts beginning before 2004 have higher ratings than newer ones.

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Private fee-for-service plans and regional preferred provider organizations (PPOs) generally have below-average ratings, which are significantly lower than HMOs and local PPOs. Among the largest organizations offering Medicare Advantage plans quality ratings ranged from 4.07 stars among Kaiser Permanente plans to an average of 2.76 stars among Humana plans.