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Give ’Em What They Want

To stay ahead of the competition in the volatile health insurance marketplace, CIGNA is turning to the Web to strengthen its appeal to consumers.

The health insurance industry increasingly is embracing the value of providing consumers with more information about their healthcare and its costs as well as the tools that can help them manage those costs. Philadelphia-based CIGNA ($44.9 billion in total assets) is seeking to gain a competitive advantage with an intense focus on the online channel as a means not only for transforming the traditional patient/doctor/insurer relationship, but also to build business and reduce costs. "Consumerism is pushing choices out to users," says Jeff Wyne, vice president for marketing strategy and product development at CIGNA. "To support our philosophy, we are using technology to give full transparency and awareness to members, giving them information that will allow them to make informed choices and help strengthen the relationship between doctor and patient."

The strategy seems to be paying off. Six million of CIGNA's 9 million members are now using online services and of those, 3 million have registered to use the online e-business portals, up from only 50,000 when the first revamped portal was launched in 2002. Moreover, CIGNA's online transactions have increased from 3,000 transactions per month in 2002 to the current 2.5 million transactions per month. Plus, the carrier has saved money by making it easier for users to conduct online transactions on its system. "For CIGNA, it is not just about putting out the capabilities," says Wyne. "It is about putting out the capabilities policyholders are telling us they want. It is about helping them with their decision making and giving them access to the information they are looking for."

Going With the Flow

At CIGNA, the concept of consumerism grew out of market and consumer research the carrier conducted, which indicated the sales dynamic was shifting to a more consumer-based model, says Wyne. "The dynamic of the sales interaction is going to change and the balance is going to shift toward the member, as opposed to the existing model that is based on the employer-sponsored plan with the employer largely making the decisions," he says. CIGNA, which distributes its products through a direct sales force, brokers and third-party channels, saw the opportunity to use technology to let consumers take healthcare into their own hands.

Consumer research also helped CIGNA figure out the best way to provide members with the information they wanted. "For any consumer, you have to satisfy basic needs," explains Wyne. "After conducting a lot of consumer research, we discovered that our members wanted an overall customized experience, which meant providing more online tools and capabilities."

Based on these findings, in 2000 CIGNA began a multimillion-dollar e-business initiative focused on the redesign of its three existing external portals, as well as its network and Web environment, to support a more consumer-centric business strategy. This required IT to centralize several Web sites, place existing Web tools from these sites onto the portals and develop new tools specific to the needs of the portals' users.

By 2002 CIGNA had launched, a member-focused Web portal that allows members to see claims, prescription history and provider information. The portal also includes tools specifically designed to give the consumer options and create transparency. "The employee portal has more interactive tools, such as hospital and drug comparison tools and risk assessment tools that were developed from research and analytics," says Wyne.

Reach for the Stars

The tools also include a hospital and doctor quality and procedure assessment, which lets consumers find the best hospitals for specific procedures based on a "Zagat Survey"-like star rating; a drug comparison estimator that compares the prices of prescriptions at 54,000 pharmacies nationwide; a dental cost treatment estimator; and the most-recent addition -- virtual doctor visits.

In 2003 CIGNA launched an employer portal called, which supports Web sites that allow employers to track and manage their company's benefits packages. The portal allows employers to monitor aggregate claims, determine how many of their employees are contacting CIGNA and view monthly reports.

CIGNA is also using technology to drive consumerism into its distribution channels. Through its broker portal, CIGNA's direct sales force, consultants and third-party administrators can direct an employer to a benefit plan that fits the organization. The portal also includes CIGNA's Custom Benefit Builder, which gives the employee options to create a customized plan specific to the individual's situation -- allowing an employee to select from a standard set of health plans such as a PPO or HMO, and also lets the employee choose the size of a deductible for the plan. "Instead of choosing a benefit plan from a menu, the Custom Benefit Builder allows an employee to compare plans side by side at a price they are willing to accept so they can manage their own health," says Wyne.

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