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What’s the strategy behind Cigna’s investment plays?

Parent companies, subsidiaries, investments…insurance companies are expanding and forming alliances like it's a sport – but what kind of game is it?

Welcome to the Players Club…of insurers, that is, and the alliances and partnerships are only getting more complex.

Per a recent article in Axios, Cigna has invested $750 million into Bright Health, a company that launched in 2016 to sell plans on the Affordable Care Act exchanges.

Bright Health is a regular insurer, just smaller, and was originally an upstart that sought to disrupt the big carriers like UnitedHealthcare (United) and Anthem. Their mission? To make healthcare more affordable – “to provide the best healthcare at the best possible price” (their words, not ours). Bright Health has since grown, recently expanding to sell Medicare Advantage and employer plans.

So, you may be wondering why Cigna is supporting one of its competitors. It may be because Bright Health seems to be calling plays out of United’s playbook – and Cigna sees more opportunity to go up against the big dogs together.

According to Axios, Bright Health now owns or is affiliated with 131 clinics – a power play that’s now a growing component of the company’s strategy, and not dissimilar to United’s Optum arm. The article also points out that while, yes, this strategy can lead to better coordinated care for patients, it’s also more profitable for insurers to send patients to their own clinics.

Now, the partnership between Bright Health and Cigna – through their subsidiaries Evernorth and NueueHealth – expands those opportunities for both.

But with so many parent companies and division partners, the lines are becoming blurred and it’s getting harder and harder to know who is paying for what.

And what’s the actual benefit for Cigna here, who has also partnered with small insurer Oscar? According to another article in Modern Healthcare, these smaller partnerships help Cigna “bridge blindspots in its insurance products and add new customers to its health services division, allowing it to better compete and mimic the strategy of larger insurers.”

Parent companies, subsidiaries, investments… insurance companies are expanding and forming alliances and joining the health insurance players club – but if the end game is to mimic United, we don’t see patients coming out on top.

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