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Cigna’s new Medicare Advantage chief talks about growth plans, Covid-19

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Shortly before the first Covid-19 outbreak was reported in the U.S., Gina Conflitti stepped into her new role as chief medical officer for Cigna’s Medicare Advantage plans. Now, during a pandemic in which older Americans face a higher risk, Conflitti will help lead the company’s efforts to respond in stride.

Conflitti joined Cigna in January, after serving as CMO for Aetna’s national accounts for 12 years. A licensed physician, she practiced as an internist before working in management.

In a phone interview from her home in Arizona, Conflitti shared her plans for Cigna’s Medicare Advantage plans and what that looks like in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This is an unprecedented time. Our seniors are a segment of the American population who are very much as risk,” she said.

Cigna currently offers Medicare Advantage plans in 18 states. The company added plans in more than 40 counties last fall, as well as pilot programs for transportation to doctor’s appointments, grocery stores and places of worship in some of its plans. Though it has a smaller Medicare Advantage market share than some of its competitors, Cigna expects to see its MA customers increase between 13% and 16% this year, it said in its annual earnings.

Now, in light of the quickly-spreading Covid-19 cases in the U.S., Cigna is taking another look at its Medicare Advantage plans. The company, along with its competitors, has waived all costs related to testing for Covid-19, with the test now deemed an essential health benefit by CMS. Cigna’s pharmacy benefit manager, Express Scripts, is also delivering three-month supplies of medications.

Cigna is also looking at new guidance from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which significantly broadened access to telehealth. Prior to CMS’ new guidance, telehealth was limited to members in rural locations. Now, Medicare patients in all locations have access to in-home appointments.

“Telehealth is sort of front-and-center right now. … It won’t replace in-person medical exams. But there are certain situations, much like today, where virtual visits will give seniors access to care from their homes,” Conflitti said. “I commend CMS for their (telehealth) expansion efforts in order to mitigate the risk of exposure.”

She said Cigna would follow further CMS guidance on removing barriers to care in light of Covid-19, and was looking into other opportunities to help their members.

“We are definitely on regular calls within the company. Our leadership is speaking with other organizations and businesses in the U.S. and globally to address all aspects of this crisis,” she said.

Photo credit: designer491, Getty Images

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