How do you find the best health insurance companies in the United States? For the most part, you will want to start by looking for providers who offer plans that work with hospitals and medical providers in your area. Beyond availability, there are other factors you'll want to keep in mind, which should absolutely include the breadth of their networks, the types of plans and benefits they offer, their ratings for financial strength, and their user reviews.
Before you begin searching for health insurance coverage, it helps to know which companies are the best of the best in terms of their policy offerings and reputation. Our independent study concluded that the following providers offer the best plans and coverage nationwide. We'll explain more about how we chose the best health insurance companies in the sections below.
Best Health Insurance Companies of 2021:
- Best Overall: Blue Cross Blue Shield
- Best for Comprehensive Coverage: UnitedHealthcare
- Best Digital Experience: Oscar
- Best for Small Business: Kaiser Permanente
- Best for Students: Aetna
Best Overall: Blue Cross Blue Shield
Blue Blue Cross Blue Shield has been in operation since 1929, and this provider is currently spread across 36 independent BCBS companies that provide coverage for more than 109 million people. In addition to offering health insurance plans on Affordable Care Act marketplaces, Blue Cross Blue Shield also extends healthcare to unionized workers, small employers, and millions of people who get their healthcare through various government programs like Medicaid and Medicare.
- Mostly excellent ratings in J.D. Power's 2020 U.S. Commercial Member Health Plan Study
- Strong ratings for financial strength
- Offers ACA-compliant health insurance plans
- Broad network nationwide
- Some regional Blue Cross Blue Shield companies have better ratings than others.
While Blue Cross Blue Shield does have some mixed ratings within J.D. Power's 2020 U.S. Commercial Member Health Plan Study, they earned an above average score in most regions across the United States. Further, Blue Cross Blue Shield-branded insurance subsidiaries of Anthem boast an A rating for financial strength from AM Best.
In terms of their policies, Blue Cross Blue Shield is well known for offering coverage that works in all 50 states. You can also purchase global health insurance that works during periods of short-term or long term travel.
Who Should Sign Up? Blue Cross Blue Shield is a solid health insurance option for consumers who want broad network access from a company with a long history and excellent ratings. This provider is also ideal for consumers who want to purchase health insurance that works in all 50 states.
Best for Comprehensive Coverage: UnitedHealthcare
UnitedHealthcare has been in operation since 1977, yet they have grown since then to the point where they now offer health insurance coverage to more than 45 million people nationwide. While their J.D. Power ratings come in below average in most regions across the United States, they do have an A rating for financial strength from AM Best.
One of the biggest benefits of UnitedHealthcare is their broad network and availability nationwide. Currently, they partner with more than 1.3 million physicians and other medical professionals as well as 6,500 hospitals and other care facilities.
They also offer most types of health insurance coverage money can buy, whether you need an ACA-compliant health insurance plan, a small business plan, access to Medicare or Medicaid, short-term health insurance, or dental coverage. Your plan may even make it possible to book telehealth visits with your provider via video conferencing or a phone call.
- Large network
- Many types of health insurance available, including ACA-compliant health insurance plans
- Strong financial ratings
- Telehealth options
- Mostly below-average ratings in J.D. Power's 2020 U.S. Commercial Member Health Plan Study
Who Should Sign Up? UnitedHealthcare is worth considering regardless of the type of healthcare coverage you need. Consider signing up if you want broad network access from a reputable company.
Best Digital Experience: Oscar
Oscar is a technology-driven health insurance company that was founded in 2012. While there is no long company history to explore, this provider is currently on a path to disrupt and innovate the healthcare industry one state at a time.
Oscar currently serves more than 529,000 customers who use their plans in 291 counties across 18 states nationwide. They currently offer individual and family health insurance coverage as well as Cigna and Oscar coverage for small businesses.
Where Oscar really stands out is in its digital experience, which is mostly driven by the company's mobile app. Oscar lets you book appointments and track all your healthcare using your mobile device, and you can even store your digital ID card on your phone. Telehealth visits can also save you time and money. You can get your prescriptions refilled or complete a check-up via the phone or video conferencing. Oscar’s Virtual Urgent Care and Virtual Primary Care also lets you book unlimited $0 visits around your schedule.
- Telehealth saves time and money
- Mobile app
- ACA-compliant plans offered
- Only available in 18 states
- Must be comfortable with technology
- Few ratings and reviews to compare
Who Should Sign Up? Oscar is best for busy people who want to track their healthcare on their phone and pursue at least some of their healthcare needs using telehealth.
Best for Small Business: Kaiser Permanente
Kaiser Permanente was originally founded in 1945, yet this company is now one of the largest not-for-profit health plans in the nation. They currently serve more than 12.4 million members, although Kaiser plans are only available in 8 states and the District of Columbia.
While Kaiser Permanente offers ACA-compliant health insurance plans, coverage for individuals and families, employer coverage, and access to Medicaid and Medicare, they also have a strong offering in terms of their small business health insurance plans. Their small business plans can cover entrepreneurs and their families as well as small firms with employees, and you can choose from HMOs, PPOs, and POS plans.
Kaiser Permanente also offers bronze, silver, gold, and platinum metal plans for small business, which let you tailor your deductible, out-of-pocket maximums and premiums to your needs.
- Variety of plans available, including for small businesses and solo entrepreneurs
- ACA-compliant plans offered
- Several excellent ratings in J.D. Power's 2020 U.S. Commercial Health Plan Study
- Plans offered in 8 states and Washington D.C.
Who Should Sign Up? Anyone can consider Kaiser Permanente for their health insurance needs provided they live in a coverage area. Small business owners especially should check out their flexible health insurance plans for employees.
Best for Students: Aetna
While Aetna was originally founded in 1853, they were purchased by drugstore giant CVS in 2018. With the merger complete, both CVS and Aetna aim to use their combined capabilities to form a new and innovative healthcare model that puts customers first.
While Aetna is not currently offering individual health insurance plans, they do offer Aetna Medicare plans, Aetna Medicaid access, health insurance to students at 200 colleges and universities nationwide, and international plans. They also promote a Health Savings Account (HSA) option, which lets you save for healthcare expenses on a tax-advantaged basis.
Their student plans in particular can be fruitful since they may include dental, vision, and life insurance as well as discounts on massage therapy, vitamins, weight-loss products and programs, and more.
- Student plans available at 200 colleges and universities
- Student plans can help young adults qualify for special discounts and may include dental, vision, or life insurance
- Not available in every state
- Mixed ratings in J.D. Power's 2020 U.S. Commercial Health Plan Study
Who Should Sign Up? Students who live in a coverage area should check to see if their college or university offers Aetna coverage. These plans may come with dental, vision, or life insurance as well as discounts on vitamins and other products or services.
How We Chose the Best Health Insurance Companies
To find the best health insurance companies of 2021, we compared the top providers who offer health insurance plans in the United States. Factors we considered include coverage area, financial ratings, and ratings from J.D. Power and other third parties. We also looked for specific features and benefits offered, giving preference to companies that offer ACA-compliant health insurance plans. Ultimately, we believe the health insurance companies that made our ranking are the best in the nation right now.
What Should You Look for When Buying Health Insurance?
As you spend time comparing health insurance plans, there are plenty of details to consider. First of all, you should know that not all providers will offer plans in your state or even in your county. With that in mind, you'll want to begin your search by seeing which companies offer plans that work with hospitals and medical providers in your area.
Other factors you'll want to consider include:
- Network: It's crucial to make sure you understand the network your health insurance plan would operate on. Find out which hospitals and doctors accept any plan you're considering, as well as any specialists you see or plan to see in the future.
- Annual out-of-pocket maximum: The annual out-of-pocket maximum is the amount of money you can pay out-of-pocket in a plan year. Ideally, you'll choose a health insurance plan with an annual-out-of-pocket maximum you could afford.
- Co-pays: A co-pay is a fixed amount of money you pay for a covered health service. Co-pays can vary among plans, so you'll want to be comfortable with this amount.
- Annual deductible: Your deductible is the amount of money you need to pay for healthcare before your health insurance coverage kicks in.
- Dental and vision coverage: Also check whether your health insurance plan includes additional coverage for dental or vision care, keeping in mind you'll have to cover these expenses yourself without it.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA))?
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) was signed into law in March of 2010, and it ushered in a range of reforms that changed the American healthcare system. Specifically, this law brought about a new range of rights and protections for consumers, as well as a health insurance marketplace and subsidies to make health insurance more affordable for some Americans.
Once the ACA was implemented nationwide, health insurance customers had the chance to pick coverage among four different “metal” categories: Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. Each metal descriptor is used to explain how your plan splits the cost of healthcare across the customer and the provider.
Generally speaking, Bronze plans have the lowest monthly premiums yet they also cover the least amount until your deductible is met. Platinum plans, on the other hand, have more expensive premiums but come with higher levels of coverage.
Meanwhile, Silver plans are considered the "benchmark" plan. This type of plan is required for customers who are eligible for cost-sharing reductions that can push down the cost of healthcare even further.
How do I qualify for health insurance subsidies within the ACA?
The ACA also introduced healthcare subsidies that make insurance premiums more affordable for eligible Americans. To be eligible for a subsidy, your family unit must earn between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty limit, which is based on family size.
In 2021, the federal poverty limit for a family of five in most states is $31,040, and four times that amount is $124,160. This means a family of five can qualify for ACA subsidies if their income falls within this range. Note that the federal poverty limit changes over time to reflect inflation and other economic changes.
What is open enrollment?
The ACA also instituted a new open enrollment period, which is the period of time each year Americans can purchase or switch health insurance plans. While open enrollment usually takes place over a few months at the end of the year, the current enrollment period is open until May 15th, 2021 due to the COVID-19 emergency.
With that being said, you can change plans at any time if you qualify for a special enrollment period. Eligibility can come into play if you move, adopt a child, have a baby, get married, or have another eligible life event.