Insider Q&A: Cigna CEO seeks deeper push into patient health

Insider Q&A: Cigna CEO seeks deeper push into patient health
This undated photo provided by Cigna shows David Cordani, President and Chief Executive Officer of Cigna. Cordani spoke recently with The Associated Press during an interview. (Thaddeaus Harden Photography/Cigna via AP)

Call Cigna a health insurer, and CEO David Cordani will try to correct you.

He doesn’t consider the company a pharmacy benefit manager either, even though Cigna just spent roughly billion on one of the country’s biggest prescription processors, Express Scripts.

The 52-year-old executive sees Cigna as a “health service company.” That bulky label reflects insurers’ growing interest in being involved in more than just waiting to handle bills from a claim after people get sick.

Cordani spoke recently with The Associated Press about this shift and other topics. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: One of the benefits from acquiring Express Scripts is more patient data. How will that affect a typical patient’s care?

A: You could more effectively predict health issues before they transpire. You can predict in many cases a heart attack … a high-risk maternity event, and then seek to engage with the physician and with the individual to effect lifestyle, behavior or in some cases augment that with medications.

Q: You want to use this deal to expand what’s called value-based care, which shifts the financial focus to how a patient does instead of on what kind of treatment they receive. Why is this shift so important?

A: Everybody benefits, starting with the consumer: Better quality, better service, better outcome, and the practicing physicians are rewarded more meaningfully. The combined company will be able to expand and deepen those relationships significantly. Those that are creating the most value get rewarded more, and the consumer benefits by getting more personalized, higher-quality care.

Q: You talk about working with health coaches and case managers to help people. How would that work?

A: It’s lifestyle and physical activity. Figuring out creative ways to get the right physical activity that works for somebody to give them cardiovascular health is a life-changing event. But it’s got to be done in a way that works based on an individual’s lifestyle as opposed to the old archaic ways of incenting a gym membership.

Q: Is there a risk here of the insurer encroaching on the doctor’s turf, deciding what care is best for the patient?

A: We don’t seek to own the physicians. Our number one strategic imperative is to be the undisputed partner of choice. While that risk exists, we need to acknowledge it but make sure our actions reinforce that we’re trying to lock arms and enable. In some of our larger collaborative relationships, we employ and pay for health advisers, health coaches, nurses and will embed them in the physician’s office at the discretion and direction of the physician. We don’t tell them they have to, we offer it as a service.

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Follow Tom Murphy on Twitter: @thpmurphy .