The deadline to enroll for a 2014 Medicare plan is this Sat., Dec. 7, so time is of the essence to pick a plan. If you are on Medicare, or are a caregiver for someone who is, the U.S. News Best Medicare Plans site can help you navigate your options. U.S. News has analyzed all Medicare plans and found that throughout California, only Kaiser Permanente offers Medicare Advantage plans consistently rated five stars. For Part D (drug) plans, only Stonebridge Life Insurance Company offers highly-rated plans.
The guides can help you decide whether original Medicare is the best option or whether to look into Medicare Advantage plans, adding on a Medicare Part D drug coverage plan or a Medigap plan.
U.S. News used data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), including its rating of each Medicare Advantage plan, to rate the best Medicare plans by state. CMS scores each Medicare plan from one to five stars in half-star intervals. For an insurer to make the U.S. News list in a given state, its Medicare Advantage plans had to earn an average rating of at least 4.5 out of 5 stars and all of its plans in the state had to earn at least 3 stars. We found that even with a large state like California, where 27 companies offer plans, very few tended to offer top-rated plans consistently. Just one company, Kaiser Permanente, made the list.
We also used the CMS five-star system for all Part D (prescription drug) plans. We grouped the 2014-year star ratings by company and within each state, then averaged each company's ratings in that state. For an insurer to make the U.S. News list, its Part D plans had to earn an average rating of at least 4 out of 5 stars and all had to earn at least 3 stars. Each state in the country has one or more companies on our list. A few companies did well across many states, such as Stonebridge, the best Part D plan in California, which also qualified in 48 other states as well as the District of Columbia.
In addition to rating insurers, U.S. News has republished the CMS star ratings for each Medicare Advantage plan and Part D plan in the country. Plans are searchable by ZIP code from the U.S. News Medicare homepage or the search box at the top of every page on Medicare. By default, Medicare Advantage plans with drug coverage are displayed, but you can click to see Part D plans only, or Medicare Advantage plans without drug coverage. Use the search refine dropdowns and checkboxes on the left side to narrow down plans according to your criteria. Note, for example, there are Medicare Advantage plans with a $0 premium, though that is zero dollars on top of what a person on original Medicare already pays; that amount is automatically deducted from the person's Social Security check.
Another important factor to consider is the drug coverage you may need. Drug plans will pay different amounts on drugs, or even change their pricing year-to-year. You may want to take a list of your existing medications and input them into medicare.gov's site or ehealth.com, and either site will show you plans that support your drugs, as well as the most cost-effective plans.