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Press Release

New choices coming in health plans for mid-size employers in Oregon and SW Washington

Kaiser Permanente and CIGNA HealthCare team-up through innovative insurance program aimed at mid-size employers

Three-year agreement looks to bring broader health insurance choice to employers and their employees

October 6, 2003

  REGIONS: Northwest 



PORTLAND, Ore. – Mid-size employers in Oregon and Southwest Washington can now offer their employees an expanded choice of health plans plus access to one of the largest networks of physicians in the area thanks to an innovative collaboration between Kaiser Permanente and CIGNA HealthCare. Utilizing a health insurance “benefits center” called BENU Oregon, employees will be able to select coverage from multiple plan choices offered by the two health plans at various prices. Typically, most mid-size employers in the state who have 75 or more employees will only offer one health plan and one or two insurance options.

Among the first of its kind in the country, BENU offers employers the opportunity to provide greater choice to their employees while eliminating the higher costs associated with multiple health plan offerings. Through BENU, Kaiser Permanente and CIGNA HealthCare products and plans are packaged into a single offering at a competitive price. Employers also receive just one monthly bill, which reduces their benefits administration costs and staff time.

“We’ve teamed up to offer employers something that is brand new to the marketplace,” commented Cynthia Finter, regional president of Kaiser Permanente Northwest. “The combined plan options that CIGNA and Kaiser Permanente can offer will provide access, flexibility, and choice for mid-size companies and their employees no matter where they are located in our region.”

“We are always looking for new and innovative ways to broaden consumer and employer access to affordable quality health care coverage and services,” added Michael Mirt, president, CIGNA HealthCare’s West Region. “Our three-year partnership with BENU Oregon expands our market reach in the Pacific Northwest and allows us to target the growing mid-size marketplace with an array of affordable products.”

New choices coming
“Consumer studies show that employees who have meaningful choices among health delivery systems and health plan designs are four times more satisfied with their health care benefits than those with no choice,” commented Jeff Closs, CEO of BENU Inc. “Many mid-size companies can no longer afford the administrative costs of offering plans from different health insurers. Others simply cannot attract the interest of multiple carriers because of their limited size. Our approach eliminates those barriers.”

Employees who want a plan with richer benefits, lower deductibles or less expensive co-payments can elect to pay additional premium above the employer’s defined contribution with the BENU arrangement. “Although employees share more of the cost for plan designs with higher levels of benefits, they can make that choice based on their own individual and family circumstances,” added Closs.

Kathy Prosser, managing director of Marsh USA, Inc., a leading insurance brokerage in Portland, says the broader choice and pricing stability will be favorably received by brokers as well. “Premium increases have forced many companies, large and small, to annually wrestle with their health plan and benefits selection,” she said. “Looking to cut into that inflationary cycle, some have opted to simply reduce plan choices or reduce the benefits and coverage while raising co-pays and asking employees to pay more. The BENU approach with CIGNA and Kaiser Permanente will allow employers and employees to jointly manage those premium increases while expanding choice. That is an innovation the market is looking for and one I think will become more and more attractive.”

Another unique aspect of the partnership between Kaiser Permanente and CIGNA HealthCare is the adoption of BENU’s risk adjustment mechanism. Rather than each carrier having to raise their rates to protect against anticipated enrollment of sicker or older employees, BENU will compensate carriers based on their actual membership. Age, sex and geographic characteristics are used to balance the risk pool in BENU’s unique and proprietary process. “This allows each carrier to efficiently serve whatever portion of the employee population it enrolls,” adds BENU’s Closs.

The new plan will be marketed through regional and local health insurance brokers and agents. Quotes now available to companies will have a January 1 effective date. For sales information about BENU Oregon, please contact Kaiser Permanente at 1-888-801-3322 or (503) 813-3322; Deanne Batty for CIGNA at (206) 625-8679; or Tim Kussie of BENU Oregon at (206) 262-7352 or visit www.benu.com.

About Kaiser Permanente
Kaiser Permanente is the nation’s largest nonprofit health plan. Kaiser Permanente has been providing health care in the Pacific Northwest since 1945. Kaiser Permanente Northwest has more than 700 physicians and nearly 400 affiliated clinicians who are organized in a group practice. The program operates 26 medical offices in the Northwest, owns and operates one hospital, and has relationships with various community hospitals to serve its members. Currently, the program serves the medical care needs of about 435,000 people in Oregon and Southwest Washington. Across the nation more than 8.3 million people choose Kaiser Permanente for their health care needs. Nationally, Kaiser Permanente has 11,000 physicians and 134,000 employees and owns and operates 30 medical centers with 431 medical offices. National program offices are in Oakland, Calif.

About CIGNA HealthCare
CIGNA HealthCare in Oregon provides health coverage and employee benefit services to nearly 128,000 individuals and includes a provider network of approximately 4,000 providers and 49 hospitals throughout Oregon and Southwest Washington. The company’s Pacific Northwest operations are based in Seattle and insure more than 332,000 members in the region. CIGNA HealthCare, headquartered in Bloomfield, Conn., provides medical benefits through managed care and indemnity health care plans to approximately 12.0 million people, dental coverage to approximately 12.5 million, behavioral health coverage to approximately 14.3 million, and pharmacy benefits to approximately 9.4 million. “CIGNA HealthCare” refers to Connecticut General Life Insurance Company and various other operating subsidiaries of CIGNA Corporation (NYSE: CI). Products and services are provided by these operating subsidiaries and not CIGNA Corporation.

About BENU Oregon
BENU, Inc., headquartered in San Mateo, Calif. is a pioneering benefits solution company for the mid-sized employer marketplace. Operating in Seattle and Portland, Ore., BENU provides employers with more control of their health care expenditures while broadening the choice of insurance products and services for employees. It features the products and services of today’s leading national and regional insurance companies and health plans for the growing defined contribution environment, all managed and administrated through its unique and proprietary risk-adjustment and benefits automation technology. BENU is the “choice of benefits” and the “benefits of choice.”