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Business-Technologists Visions: Better Benefits, Less Strain

Benefits providers must move beyond a passive model to engage, educate, and empower consumers, Cigna's Andrea Anania says.

When it comes to serving consumers, too many providers of employee benefits--health care, group insurance, retirement plans--have taken an approach that's overly passive or, in the eyes of some cynics, passive aggressive. Employees seeking access to their health-care or retirement plans have found the view relatively opaque, with information fragmented and generic and service support complex, confusing, and unnavigable.

The good news is that employee-benefits providers are attempting to better engage consumers via the Web. The bad news is that access to brochureware, generic calculators, and some back-office applications doesn't resonate with consumers. Cigna recently conducted a national survey that found that while 80% of employers offer some benefits information or tools online, just one in five employees has used them.

That's a sizable disconnect considering that all parties--benefits providers, employers, and employees--have the same goal: improving the individual's opportunity for successful health-care and financial outcomes. Clearly, benefits providers need to move beyond today's passive model to engage, educate, and empower consumers.

In recent years, employee-benefits providers have offered nascent Web resources to complement print materials, automated telephone systems, and call centers. But the degree of personalization and integration has been superficial. You may be greeted by name, but applications are often links that can't be accessed through a single sign-on, and there's a voluminous online health and financial library that's too big, too generic, and too confusing for people to use. And the online applications are most likely not connected to other service touch points.

But these efforts provide an excellent foundation for building a better benefits experience. At Cigna, we've launched the myCigna .com benefits portal to provide individual plan participants with comprehensive information about their personal health care and retirement accounts and let them set preferences so that continually updated Web resources align with their stages of life or health needs. That way, retirement-plan participants aren't inundated with "Personal Finance 101" courseware when they need much more sophisticated information.

The portal also offers an integration point for both accessing information and receiving service. MyCigna .com provides information in one place for all Cigna's health-care plans and its range of retirement programs, from pensions to 401(k) to online brokerage services. We're integrating transaction tools and updated account information available online with other forms of customer care, from service rep to the registered nurse on our 24-hour health information line.

Yet these are only baby steps toward where we want to go. The ultimate goal of employee benefits must be placing more responsibility with employees, whether it's choosing how to invest 401(k) funds or how best to spend health-care dollars. Our challenge is to give employees adequate tools to handle that responsibility.

Web technology offers great, untapped opportunities for flexibility. Health-plan applications can be recast as Web services that plug in all the authorized constituencies--the employee, the doctor or hospital, the service provider--so there's a seamless, coordinated, 360-degree view of the individual's health care. From this vantage point, plan participants will have greater control over their benefits and their health. Web tools can automatically push critical health-care information to users based on physicians' insurance-diagnosis codes, so relevant information is delivered directly to them when it matters most, rather than forcing them to search for it.

Our industry's investment in technology is critical because employees are being asked to become more involved and make more decisions about the management of their health and financial well-being. They have no choice but to be more informed and more engaged, and we can no longer be passive in helping them.

Andrea Anania is executive VP and CIO at Cigna Corp. She also chairs the IT advisory board for her local United Way.

Photo of Andrea Anania by Dominic Episcopo

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Do tech stars like Michael Dell, Steve Ballmer, and Carly Fiorina see the future clearly? Check out what our complete panel of 32 visionaries have to say here.

Columns By Other Business Technology Leaders

Andrea Anania, executive VP and CIO at Cigna Corp. Dave Bent, CIO and VP at Acterna LLC
Scott Dinsdale, executive VP of Digital Strategy at the Motion Picture Association David Guzmán, senior VP and CIO of Owens & Minor
John Halamka, senior VP of I.S. at CareGroup Healthcare System Randy Mott, senior VP and CIO at Dell Computer
Ralph Syzgenda, group VP and CIO at General Motors Pedro Villalba, senior VP of I.T. and chief technology officer at HIP Health Plan of New York
Janet Wejman, senior VP and CIO of Continental Airlines


Is the author right? Or out in left field? Have your say on this column and the rest of our Future Visions package at informationweek.com/forum/informationweek

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