Evernorth Launches National Behavioral Care Expansion

March 8, 2024
The care services unit of Cigna is promising clinician access within 72 hours of scheduling.

Evernorth, the healthcare services arm of The Cigna Group, has begun rolling out a behavioral health practice with the goal of being national a year from now.

Cigna executives announced the launch of Evernorth Behavioral Care Group at an investor meeting at which they also slightly lifted the overall company’s long-term profit growth forecasts. Evernorth Behavioral Care Group already is up and running in six states (including California, New York and Texas) as well as the District of Columbia and will scale far more broadly in 2025. The group already comprises more than 1,000 licensed clinicians.

The two core elements of Cigna's pitch to the market: Faster access for patients and less hassle for clinicians. On the patient side, Evernorth Behavioral Care Group is promising access to a clinician—in person or virtually—within 72 hours of scheduling. Typically, Cigna officials say, that process can take weeks, a gap in time that over time increases the total cost of care by double digits.

More broadly, Cigna estimates that 40 percent of total healthcare system costs in the United States are driven by patients with behavioral conditions. Thus, better coordinating work on behavioral and physical health will have major spillover effects.

“There’s meaningful opportunity for behavioral care to be better coordinated as there are significant comorbidities with individuals with mental health care needs along with other care needs,” Evernorth President and CEO Eric Palmer said earlier this year. “We’re in a position to help us address those challenges.”

On the administrative side, Evernorth’s new initiative leans on its data analytics and technology platforms to lighten the load, particularly on smaller practices. It also is piggybacking on the practice infrastructure, process and clinician recruiting work that's been done by Octave, a six-year-old mental health provider into which Cigna's venture-capital arm has invested. 

In the company’s 2023 annual report to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Cigna executives noted that they “continued to leverage both internal and external data to identify and address health disparities and better understand the long-term medical and behavioral complications facing our customers.” That work, they say, is helping them identify care options earlier than in the past.

"The vast majority of people struggle to get help when they need it, and individual practitioners lack the tools and technology to make access easy and to measure quality," Eva Borden, Evernorth’s president of behavioral health, said in a statement last week.

Shares of Cigna (Ticker: CI) were changing hands near $344 on the afternoon of March 8, which was up nearly 4 percent from the Friday before. The stock has climbed more than 20 percent over the past six months, which has pushed the company’s market capitalization past the $100 billion mark.

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