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AARP Branded Medicare Advantage Plans Do Not Rank Among the Best Scorers


The Affordable Care Act (“ACA” aka “Obamacare”) will bring new opportunities and challenges to health care consumers. With more people receiving coverage on the individual market, they will need to find ways to select health plans that meet their needs. Consumerism in the Medicare market predates Obamacare with choices of Medicare Advantage and Medicare Prescription Drug plans. In light of the movement toward individual choice, HealthPocket decided to look at the effect of brand awareness on decision making and focused on one well known and widely used branded Medicare Advantage program. We found that plans bearing the AARP brand in the Medicare Advantage market on average fall short of the industry in two measures of plan quality.

This report looked at 578 Medicare Advantage contracts with a particular focus on the government’s star rating and the overall opinion of the plan based on a survey of enrollees in that plan. The goal of this research is to compare how one of the strongest brands in the industry, AARP and its endorsed carrier, UnitedHealth, perform in these high level quality metrics compared with the universe of plans.

The Medicare Advantage program has been successful in many ways, including enrollment. There are now 14.4 million people enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans, and that figure has grown by almost 10 percent since 2012.1 Medicare Advantage market share represents over 28 percent of the Medicare eligible population.2 By contrast, the insurance industry reports that 10.2 million people had Medigap plans, which supplement benefits to traditional Medicare, at the end of 2012. This marketplace doesn’t show the same growth pattern seen in the Advantage market.3

Consumers have complex choices to make when deciding between traditional Medicare and Medicare Advantage. Once they conclude that an Advantage plan can best meet their needs, they then have to navigate an array of options available to them. There is much research regarding the paradox of choice and consumer decision making generally.4 One specific study of the Medicare Advantage market showed the market within a particular region generally grows when choice is limited to fewer than 15 plans, but could in fact shrink if choices become too numerous.5 The article expressed particular concern that beneficiaries with cognitive challenges could miss better plan opportunities because of having too much choice.

The Medicare plan quality star rating system is a key factor in helping enrollees differentiate plans. The rating provides a one to five (actual results start at 2 stars) scoring system for Medicare Advantage Plans.6 The overall rating reflects treatment, preventive care, and customer satisfaction collected on the Medicare Advantage plan. Consumers who are interested in poring through more detail can find sub-ratings on the Medicare plan finder website7 and on HealthPocket’s Plan Details page for each Medicare Advantage plan.8

Researchers are finding evidence that the star ratings are beginning to move market share toward the higher rated plans.9 However, HealthPocket also wanted to see the effect a brand might have on Medicare Advantage market share. Because choices can be so numerous in the Medicare Advantage market, a consumer might fall back on a basic comfort level that a known and trusted brand can provide a good choice. Research also indicates that some older people select from among fewer choices based on brand awareness.10


UnitedHealth is the leading market share carrier for Medicare Advantage, with a reported market share of nearly 21 percent in February 2013.11 Humana has the second largest market share at nearly 17 percent. AARP branded plans are described on the AARP Member Advantages website12 as being structured the following way: “The AARP® MedicareComplete® plans are insured through UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company and its affiliated companies, a Medicare Advantage organization with a Medicare contract. UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company pays royalty fees to AARP for use of its intellectual property.”

Market share reports do not tend to break out AARP’s share from the rest of UnitedHealth’s, but a Congressional report in March 2011 stated that AARP branded plans then had an 11 percent market share and non-AARP branded UnitedHealth plans had an additional 7 percent market share.13

Star Ratings

The chart below compares the average star ratings for AARP Medicare Advantage plan contracts with the remaining universe of Medicare plan contracts: The data shows a significant oversupply of AARP contracts in the 3 and 3.5 range, while few AARP contracts reach 4 and none reach the excellent range of 4.5 and 5. In fact, only 8.5% of AARP plan contracts exceed 3.5 stars. Averaging all contracts with ratings excluding AARP, the average score equaled 3.47, while the average for the AARP contracts equaled 3.27.

The highest scoring plans across their average contract scores were nonprofit health plans, including Kaiser (7.9 percent market share, but still an average contract score of 4.93), Gundersen Lutheran Health System, Baystate Health and HealthPartners Inc.) However, for profit plans also had higher average contract scores than AARP, such as Humana (3.4) and Aetna (3.65.)

Members’ Overall Rating of Plan Results

HealthPocket also looked at how the branded AARP Medicare Advantage plans fared compared with the industry in how the plans were rated by a survey of their members. The chart below shows how the AARP plans compared with the remainder of the plans in the industry with respect to members who rated the plan highly.

The industry average for all plans excluding AARP for this response was 86 percent of members rated the plan highly, while AARP’s plan contract average was 83 percent. Perhaps more importantly, the AARP plans top out at 86 percent, while the rest of the industry has 62 plan contracts at 90 percent or higher and tops out at 95 percent.

Implications for Consumers

A lot of factors drive consumers’ decisions regarding their health plan purchase. They will be heavily motivated by cost, including premiums, copays, deductibles and maximum out-of-pocket expenses. Many will want to make sure that key physicians participate in their plan and that specific health care facilities are in a plan’s network. Therefore, quality should play one important role in a mix that contains other factors. At least with respect to Medicare Advantage quality scores and consumer satisfaction data, the AARP branded plans are not top performers. Yet they are successful in achieving strong market participation. Fortunately for consumers CMS, the Medicare plans’ regulator, has done an excellent job of releasing data to the public and on its own plan finder website. This allows easier comparison of plans and brings plan quality into the mix for consumer decision making. Being able to see actual ratings and customer satisfaction might provide enrollees sufficient peace of mind to look beyond the brand in determining health plan selection.


Data on attrition, complaints and star ratings were taken from 2013 CMS Medicare Part C Performance Data tabulations.14 The data was based on contract numbers, which can represent multiple plans. UnitedHealth contract numbers were compared against Medicare Advantage plan landscape data to determine which UnitedHealth plans carried the AARP brand. Medicare Advantage contract plans that were either too new or had insufficient data to a have star rating or overall plan rating were eliminated from this review. The remaining plans were not adjusted for market share.15 This study did not consider premium costs or other plan details. All analysis assumes the accuracy of the underlying government data. While every effort was made towards a representative collection of plans, HealthPocket makes no representation that every plan within the Medicare Advantage market was included in this study. Percentages are rounded according to standard industry practices.


Steve Zaleznick, Executive Director for Consumer Strategy and Development at, completed this survey analysis.

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87 Comments on "AARP Branded Medicare Advantage Plans Do Not Rank Among the Best Scorers"

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You refer multiple times to the chart below on Advantage Plans. So where’s the charts???????

I am a retired Insurance agent and was in the senior market since 1967. I am totally familiar with all aspects of the way seniors think when it comes to purchasing Insurance products. I have sold thousands of Medigap policies when they were the only product available to those on Medicare. Premiums were the overriding factor that determined what decision the senior would make, coverage was second. Late in my career the federal govt. decided to manage the Insurance market and started to release the “Medicare Advantage” plans. These plans came with all kinds of different co-pays, deductibles and various prescription benefits. Medigap policies do not include prescriptions in their benefits, you need to purchase a separate policy. When I retired I needed to make a decision between a stand-alone Medigap policy or a Medicare Advantage plan. I am now in my fifth year of retirement and have been covered… Read more »
I, too, worked in the insurance field for many years as a claim adjuster for medical and dental claims. My husband worked for the Federal Government and every year we went through “open season” with a choice of up to a dozen different insurance companies and plans we were eligible for. I became very adept at reading all the brochures and choosing the plan we wanted for the next year. Now that we are both on Medicare, I checked with the clinic we use as to what Medicare plans they accept and then take a very close look at each one and do my own comparisons. My dining room table is covered with paperwork right now. United is off my list because of the dropping of major facilities and physicians in our area. I am down to Humana and the Blues. Have not looked into Aetna yet as I am… Read more »

I don’t nor ever have worked in the insurance industry. to DG Ray’s point….I don’t like changing Doctors all the time so Advantage Plans are off the table for me but they are way cheaper. Also reading from Kaiser Family Health non profit that does more research than anyone….Seniors tend to pick by “brand” and not price and lose out by doing that. I’m getting ready to make a choice so i’m reading all I can as i will be 65 in 2-1/2 months. As to Sharon’s point…You are so right…it is complicated and I don’t want a ton of sales agents calling. So…I figure I’ll do my research…then make some calls because I have been in sales before. I’ve actually learned alot just by reading here!!!

Thanks for your “two cents” — great info. I’ll be having to sign on to Medicare soon and am totally confused by all the options and choices.

I have read that AARP actually receives a commission for each product sold. The TV ads stating that United Healthcare is only product to carry AARP’S name confers approval when it really means that that is the only company willing to pay them a commission.

AARP United Health Care Medicare Advantage plan is my third advantage plan. I don’t plan on ever leaving United Health care.the other plans I had I was refered toand first I couldn’t find any doctors that took them I had to go to a teaching school to get a with both of them their copays and prescription drugs prices skyrocketed. My copays and drug prices dropped, personally I’m very happy with AARP Medicare Complete Advantage plans.

My mom 87 has ARPP MEDICARE COMPLETE. She had a fall and needs in home physio therapy. I called United Healthcare and had them give me providers. None would except I called 6 providers and the rep at United Healthcare called 6 and not one provider on their list accepts ARPP MEDICARE COMPLETE because of the WelMed. Now I can’t find a physio therapist for my mom…I told the United Healthcare rep this was unacceptable and why they have these providers on there list…all he said was I’m sorry but he didn’t know who else to call. TOTALLY OUTRAGEOUS.

Insurance is risk based on the premium you are willing to pay. She is best off looking for an independent agent they are suppose to represent several companies not just one. She can get out Oct 15-Dec.7 for a Jan 1st effective date. Get her on a Medicare supplement AARP offers a guarantee issue PLan N or a couple hundred. Part B deductible for 2016 $166 proposed going up to $204 once met doc visits up to 20 ER 50. that premium would be worst case as there may be other companies that would offer a lower premium. HMO’s have limited networks. Advantage plans as a whole have big Holes in them. IE Surgery 20% ouch stay away!

A friend referred me to AMAC for information on medicare advantage plans. My husband turned 65 in December and I will be 65 in March. Presently we have the Federal BlueCross/BlueShield. I have spent time researching medicare since September 2013 and still haven’t made a decision. We will both sign up in February to be effective March 1. This whole process has been a nightmare. The medicare site is confusing and frustrating. We have been looking at UHC through AARP (no I am not a member!) and may go with them. So here I am, joined AMAC to get information on their medicare advantage plans, have to submit my phone number for them to call. That is majorly irritating, I want to research their different programs before talking. Not sure this is going to work. After reading the other emails UHC is not the most reliable company. What other options… Read more »

Humana PPO is the best. Blue Cross PPO is also good

My mother, a 70yo Washington Co Ohio teacher was coerced into a Medicare Advantage plan through STRS last year when she retired. She was told this was a supplemental policy that would cover the additional 20% of Medicare remainders. In addition, she was further upsold for the “best policy”. Last week (her first claim) she had an accident where she fell and had 2 compound fractures in her leg and required immediate surgery. The hospital told us she had poor coverage and was denied anything past a 6 hours post surgery stay. She was sent home BY AMBULANCE without any follow-up, unable to stand and care for herself whatsoever. I was told if she had Medicare alone, she would’ve had more coverage and options for hospital care, physical therapy and rehabilitation. When contacting AETNA we were given the run-around, was told the coverage was there and blamed the surgeon’s report… Read more »
I have UHC complete plan one. All was fine the first year there after the co pays and co insurance continues to rise. Then in Dec 2013 they notified their members of all the doctors they were letting go. One of them was our PCP he had told us himself so we could find a doctor elsewhere. UHC waited to the eleventh hour to notify their insured that they were doing this with a letter saying this will provide us better health care. Who are they kidding. I will be dumping them ASAP. They also did not notify me last year when we met our yearly deductible of $6700 and we continued to pay co pays and insurance co pays. They stopped sending us EOBs so I had no way of knowing. Found out by accident and had to go through the turmoil of getting providers to refund nearly $1000.00.… Read more »

I just received my letter: “Starting September 15, 2014, one or more of the doctors you have recently seen will no longer be a part of your plan’s network…….Why our network is changing. These changes with your doctor(s) are part of our effort to build a network of doctors that we can work with more closely.” Is this implying that my PCP is inferior or unethical? How gracious of them to assigned me to a new doctor! I’ve been with my doctor for over 20 years. Why in God’s good heaven would I want to change doctors and what makes Secure Horizons think they can treat American citizens in such a manner?!! AND expect us to just keep our mouths shut and be herded like sheep! I’ve already started looking for an ethical alternative to AARP MedicareComplete SecureHorizons Plan2!

I’m pretty sure your doctor dropped that particular insurance, not that the insurance company dropped the doctor. that’s always been my experience

Mary that’s exactly right the doctor has to be a really bad doctor or a criminal for the doctor to be let go by the insurance company.

I took the United Medicare Advantage PPO plan in NY for several reasons-1. It was the only PPO Advantage program for NY not charging extra to enroll for basic PPO in-network services (probably because AARP got their deal to exclude their money-train partner from extra regs and fees from Obama Care law) 2. They claimed a large PPO network (but i find the claim exaggerated. Most nearby doctors will not participate, because they are so nickel and dime sticklers to exact rules and details to avoid paying their portion from Medicare.} 3..They offer a dental plan premium, which amazingly needs only to be active and paid for those months that you plan to see a dentist. It can be turned off and on, if you no longer need heavy dental coverage. 4. It offers a vision plan supplement. 5. Most importantly to me it offers in-network audiologist coverage -AND ability… Read more »

if you don’t like your Advantage plan get on a Medicare supplement (medigap). If you lost your group you get 63 days to make a change or just wait until Oct 15-Dec7th
quote a Plan N. the projected Part B deductible for 2017 is 204 (labs xrays doctor etc,) once met up 20 on doctor visit 50 er. there are no network limitations other than the doctor or hospital has to accept Medicare. If Medicare no pay neither with the insurance company

Just ran across this blog while looking for low-cost medicare plans for my 92 year old mother. She’s had a Medigap policy for years and years, but the cost has now increased to the point she can’t afford it. I am hoping to switch her to Kaiser Senior Advantage, but hope the lack of Part D on her plan won’t be a problem, as Medicare will penalize those with out “credible coverage” by imposing a fine every month. I hope her Drug discount card from Banker’s Fidelity will work. My daughter and son-in-law suggested Kaiser Senior Advantage for my husband and me. They are both Kaiser Doctors in CO. We are in Georgia and fortunate enough to live in a county where Kaiser is availabe. We pay NO monthly premiums, just a $30.00 co-pay for Dr. visits and high co-pays for procedures, still low enough for us to save money… Read more »
Kaiser coverage is a great value until you acquire a problem that Kaiser and its doctors judge too unprofitable to treat. Technically Kaiser is a “non-profit” however in practice it it extremely profit-driven because half of what it keeps ($3.3 billion in 2013) is kicked back to its MDs. The Kaiser president incentivizes all Kaiser’s MDs to engage in questionable and possibly tragic penny-pinching behavior with 50% profit-sharing bonuses (kickbacks) that averaged around $85,000 per Kaiser MD in 2013. As a case in point, four years ago in California my aunt acquired a thyroid cancer that was usually nearly 100% curable in Stage 1 (when she first saw Kaiser about her symptoms) but because her Kaiser doctors failed to provide the costly tests (such as MRIs) and care that she should have received her cancer progressed to Stage 4 and now her chances for survival are grim. While in Stage… Read more »

My Mother,Dad,& lovely TRI-SOMY 21 Sister Eileen Marie Margaret O’Connor had great insuranse; I CONTINUE TO INVESTIGATE THEIR BRUTAL, COLD BLOODED MURDERS, BY THE LUCUFER/SATAN, MEDICAL FOLKS. MANY DUNGEON&DRAGON, EVIL PRACTIONERS IN MEDICINE. It is dangereous to be in any HOSPITAL, especially, CATHOLIC HOSPITALS because you’d think safe!

Paddy O’Connor

If AMAC can come up with an affordable supplement plan, Great! Our United is going up from $127 each to $196 each in October. Howinhell are seniors with no ADJUSTED income supposed to afford these increases? Two of the three drugs I must take have tripled since January, plus, Medicare told us the local pharmacy wasn’t “preferred “, so unless we wanted to spend an additional $8 for each scrip – (and we need 7 between us) – we now have to drive 22 miles to the pharmacy they approve of. What crapola!!! We’ve checked around and cannot find another supplement comparable any cheaper. Obama thinks anyone over 65 is deadmeat anyway, so couldn’t care less if we all croak at the same time. (He then can send our SSI money to Egypt or Pakistan for more weapons to use against us) Since he has Iran and Russia laughing at… Read more »

Advantage plans were great for several years but now they are in trouble. The Obama administration severely cut their benefits.Many Drs and durable goods suppliers are not accepting patients having Advantage plans. Additionally several hospitals in my area do not accept any United Health Care plans because they cannot reach contract agreement.

Archie said,”I am particularly put off by AMAC when they offer Advantage Plan without saying who the insurance company is. You have to call them to find out. I like doing my research BEFORE I listen to a sales pitch. Until I know who
their “better than” AARP plan coverage is, I’m not going to call or email or whatever. I don’t like “games”.
Be up front with what you offer or I may leave this organization.”

I agree completely. I wanted to followup on the AMAC plan, but didn’t because the insurance company wasn’t identified and a phone call was required.

As well, I would really like to see a comparison of Medigap plans. This appears to be a better and less expensive way of getting coverage.

I agree with you. I am like you. I prefer to do my research first. will allow you to do comparison shopping.

I have United health care no problems so far also had them when I was working full time no problems then as well. I would like to see what you have but like previous poster I NEED to know who it is first so my daughter can research them for me she works in the insurance business and helps us get what we need.

While this article is informative, I would have liked seeing a list of the winners so to speak. Having a negative review without giving us a solution (s), isn’t helping us to choose wisely.
I am particularly put off by AMAC when they offer Advantage Plan without saying who the insurance company is.
You have to call them to find out. I like doing my research BEFORE I listen to a sales pitch. Until I know who
their “better than” AARP plan coverage is, I’m not going to call or email or whatever. I don’t like “games”.
Be up front with what you offer or I may leave this organization.

Well said – ditto

Interesting. Those plans you said were best are not available where we live. Although I hate having the AARP letters on my health card they are A. Those most affordable B. All my doctors take that plan. C. A number of them will not accept Humana. United health Care has paid promptly and I have had no problem finding a specialist with them. I would be delighted to find another plan without AARP branding but so far have not found one. I am not a member of theirs nor have I been for over 25 yrs. So I will continue to watch for another one but will not give up the doctors I have just because I don’t like AARP.

I agree – I’ll continue to look for non AARP plans also.

I turn 65 in January 2017. I am trying to compare costs between a Kaiser plan and the AARP United Healthcare plan. Kaiser rates higher in quality but I am unsure what a dollar to dollar comparison would be. Are there any links to sites that compare rates?

The prescription program is not only significantly mo re expensive than other pro grams, the mail order cost was MORE EXPENSIVE buying through local drug stores I called Optum RX to ask why that is and why a drug that is a tier 2 drug everywhere else is a 4 tier drug with them.
The pharmacist I spoke with said the insurance company sets the prices.
In other words, UHC is charging more for medication to make up for the commissions it pays to AARP.

I am all for capitalism and making a profit but when a company is so deceitful as to send out a letter telling you that nothing has or will change for the next year and then increase prices by 3X I can only call them lairs and worse. I guess a significant change would be raising prices 10x. Open enrollment is at the end of the year, funny how they sent out that letter telling us that their would be no significant changes so we would not shop around for a better deal. AARP Medicare Supplement Plans – United Health Care has done this to my mother. Both of these despicable companies got into bed with OBAMASCARE and the OBAMASCARE exchanges now that they are losing money. United Health Care has chosen to back out of the exchanges and are looking to recoup their money any way they can, fast.… Read more »