Medicare Star Ratings

The Medicare star rating system assesses the quality of Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D prescription drug plans based on several categories, including customer service and access to preventive care. You can use these ratings to find high-quality private Medicare plans in your area.

Lamia Chowdhury, editor for RetireGuide.com
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A licensed insurance professional reviewed this page for accuracy and compliance with the CMS Medicare Communications and Marketing Guidelines (MCMGs) and Medicare Advantage (MA/MAPD) and/or Medicare Prescription Drug Plans (PDP) carriers’ guidelines.

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APA Chowdhury, L. (2022, April 14). Medicare Star Ratings. RetireGuide.com. Retrieved August 14, 2022, from https://www.retireguide.com/medicare/basics/star-ratings/

MLA Chowdhury, Lamia. "Medicare Star Ratings." RetireGuide.com, 14 Apr 2022, https://www.retireguide.com/medicare/basics/star-ratings/.

Chicago Chowdhury, Lamia. "Medicare Star Ratings." RetireGuide.com. Last modified April 14, 2022. https://www.retireguide.com/medicare/basics/star-ratings/.

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What Are Medicare Star Ratings?

Medicare star ratings are an objective way for consumers to compare private Medicare Advantage plans and Medicare Part D prescription drug plans based on quality and performance.

Each plan receives a rating — weighted by enrollment numbers — between 1 and 5 stars, with 1 being poor and 5 being excellent. Medicare quality star ratings are assigned at the contract level instead of for each individual plan. Most contracts cover multiple plans.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) implemented the star rating system in 2008 to help potential enrollees compare plans available in their area while encouraging plan providers to continuously improve quality.

Did You Know?
In 2022, 90% of beneficiaries enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans with prescription drug coverage are enrolled in a 4-star or higher plan.

High-performing plans receive extra money from the federal government, further incentivizing companies to improve service and expand offerings.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) created financial bonus payments for Medicare Advantage and Part D plans that receive at least four stars. These bonuses can provide a 5% to 10% increase in funding.

Private plans without star ratings (due to low enrollment or being too new) also receive bonus payments, but at a lower rate of 3.5%.

Private companies are encouraged to use these federal bonuses to reduce out-of-pocket costs for beneficiaries and to offer additional supplemental benefits.

Between 2015 and 2021, total annual bonuses to Medicare Advantage plans increased dramatically from $3 billion to $11.6 billion, according to Kaiser Family Foundation.

CMS Star Ratings for 2022

The overall star ratings for Medicare Advantage prescription drug plans (MA-PD) have improved in recent years. According to CMS, about 68% of MA-PD plans earned four stars or higher in 2022 — a 19% increase from 2021.

Example MA-PD Plans That Received 5-Star Ratings in 2022
Contract Name Parent Organization Enrollees as of 10/2021 5 Stars (2021) 5 Stars (2022)
Sierra Health & Life Insurance Company, Inc. UnitedHealth Group, Inc. 1,524,329 No Yes
Kaiser Foundation HP, Inc. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. 1,295,548 Yes Yes
HealthSpring of Florida, Inc. Cigna 61,020 Yes Yes
Blue Care Network of MichiganBlue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Mutual Ins. Co. 91,548 No Yes
CarePlus Health Plans, Inc. Humana Inc. 196,637 Yes Yes
Aetna Health Inc. (ME) CVS Health Corporation 14,070 No Yes

On the other hand, scores for Medicare Advantage plans without prescription drug coverage (MA-only plans) declined for most measures, with the size of decline varying between each measure.

Medicare Part D prescription drug plans earned an average star rating of 3.70 in 2022.

When Does CMS Issue Star Ratings?

CMS releases star ratings annually to reflect on beneficiaries’ experiences with Medicare Advantage and Part D prescription plans. Ratings are typically updated in early October every year before open enrollment kicks off on October 15.

If you are looking to switch plans during the open enrollment period, be sure to review star ratings to make an informed decision.

What Do Medicare Star Ratings Measure?

Medicare Advantage plans and Part D plans are measured differently within the star rating system. But each plan rates various measures within the following categories:

5 Categories Used To Measure Medicare Star Ratings
Staying Healthy
How accessible are preventative services that keep members healthy, like flu shots and screenings?
Member Complaints and Performance
How often do members file complaints or face issues getting services?
Member Experience
How easy is it for members to get the care they need, fill prescriptions and see specialists?
Customer Service
How efficient are call center services? How quickly does the plan provider process appeals and new enrollments?
Managing Chronic Conditions
How effectively do plans coordinate care? How often do members receive services related to long-term health conditions?

Certain measures within each category are weighted differently. For example, the highest weighted group includes improvement measures, such as how much the contract’s overall star rating improved or declined from the previous year.

CMS uses administrative data, contractor data and information from member satisfaction surveys to assess performance and assign star ratings.

How To Find a 5-Star CMS Health Plan

You can use CMS’s plan finder tool or call 1-800-MEDICARE to compare ratings and find the best plans in your area. Since plan quality ratings are updated every year, be sure to check the most up-to-date ratings for a more accurate comparison.

CMS star ratings cover hospitals and nursing homes as well, so you can confidently choose a plan and facility that best suits your individual needs.

Medicare Advantage Plans

Within the five overarching categories used to create a star rating, CMS scores Medicare Advantage plans based on 28 unique quality and performance measures. These measures include customer service, number of complaints about the plan, appeal decision timeliness and the rating of health care quality.

In 2021, more than 80% of MA-PD enrollees were in plans that received a 4-star or higher rating. By 2022, that figure rose to 90% and Medicare Advantage plans scored higher for patient experience measures than in previous years.

Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plans

A total of 74 MA-PD contracts and 10 Medicare Part D prescription drug plan contracts earned a 5-star rating in 2022.

The rating for Medicare Part D prescription drug plans is based on 12 measures. Among these measures are the number of complaints about the plan, whether or not members are getting the prescription drugs they need and how many members chose to leave the plan last year.

According to CMS, if a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan has been in the program for over 10 years, it’s likely to have four or more stars.

Nursing Homes

Nursing homes with 5-star ratings are considered to provide exceptional care and quality. CMS provides one overall rating for each nursing home, as well as separate ratings based on health inspections, staffing and quality measures.

Health inspections are rated based on the three most recent health inspections resulting from complaints.

The staffing rating is determined by the average number of hours the nursing staff cares for each resident — depending on the level of care needed.

The quality measure rating is an overall score based on 15 different physical and clinical measures taken for nursing home residents.

You can access CMS’s Care Compare tool to find and compare nursing homes based on location.

Hospitals

CMS also works collaboratively with hospitals nationwide to report on the quality of performance offered to patients. The overall hospital star rating is based on a summary of data collected from seven measures: mortality, hospital readmission, safety of care, patient experience, timeliness of care, effectiveness of care and efficient use of medical imaging.

A total of 455 hospitals, or 13.56% of hospitals nationwide, received a 5-star rating in 2021.

What Is the 5-Star Special Enrollment Period?

The 5-star special enrollment period allows you a one-time opportunity to switch to a 5-star plan in your service area between December 8 and November 30.

The special enrollment period allows you to switch to a:
  • 5-Star Medicare Advantage-only plan
  • 5-star Medicare Advantage plan with prescription drug coverage
  • 5-star Medicare Part D prescription drug plan
  • 5-star Medicare cost plan

If you are currently enrolled in a 5-star plan, you can also switch to a different 5-star plan during this special enrollment period.

Once you sign up for a new plan, your benefits will begin the first day of the month following the month of which the plan received your enrollment request.

Last Modified: April 14, 2022

8 Cited Research Articles

  1. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. (n.d.). 5-star special enrollment period. Retrieved from https://www.medicare.gov/sign-up-change-plans/when-can-i-join-a-health-or-drug-plan/5-star-special-enrollment-period
  2. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. (2021, October 8). CMS Releases 2022 Medicare Advantage and Part D Star Ratings to Help Medicare Beneficiaries Compare Plans. Retrieved from https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/press-releases/cms-releases-2022-medicare-advantage-and-part-d-star-ratings-help-medicare-beneficiaries-compare
  3. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. (2021, October 8). Fact Sheet 2022 Part C and Part D Ratings. Retrieved from https://www.cms.gov/files/document/2022-star-ratings-fact-sheet1082021.pdf
  4. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. (2022). Overall Star Rating For Hospitals. Retrieved from https://www.medicare.gov/care-compare/resources/hospital/overall-star-rating
  5. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. (2019, October 1). Medicare 2020 Part C & D Star Ratings Technical Notes. Retrieved from https://www.cms.gov/Medicare/Prescription-Drug-Coverage/PrescriptionDrugCovGenIn/Downloads/Star-Ratings-Technical-Notes-Oct-10-2019.pdf
  6. Fuglesten Biniek, J., Freed, M., Damico, A., et al. (2021, June 21). Medicare Advantage in 2021: Star Ratings and Bonuses. Retrieved from https://www.kff.org/medicare/issue-brief/medicare-advantage-in-2021-star-ratings-and-bonuses/
  7. Iowa SHIP. (n.d.). 5-Star Enrollment Period. Retrieved from https://shiip.iowa.gov/sites/default/files/2020-04/5-StarPlanRating.pdf
  8. Shah, S. and Sun, E. (2021, February 4). Rating The Medicare Advantage Star Ratings—Improving The Status Quo. Retrieved from https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20210128.803030/full/