Evernorth's new CEO: 'We have such an opportunity to meaningfully change healthcare'

Eric Palmer is the newly appointed CEO of Evernorth, succeeding Tim Wentworth on Sept. 23. Mr. Palmer, who joined Cigna in 1998, played an integral role in Evernorth's September 2020 launch. The platform is a rebranding of Cigna's health services division. Mr. Palmer spoke to Becker's about his new position on Sept. 30.

Editor's note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: What are you most excited about regarding your new CEO role, and how have your 20 years at Cigna prepared you for the role?

Eric Palmer: In terms of what I'm most excited about, we launched Evernorth a year ago with a really big purpose, and that is to meaningfully change healthcare. And I think that excitement carries through across my last role and into this one. We have such an opportunity to meaningfully change healthcare. We can build on the strength of our already existing, really strong assets in the pharmacy management space and our specialty pharmacy and we've got such an opportunity to leverage and build the things of the future around how we better deploy virtual care, how we better deploy and bring to life solutions to help people manage their health at home and the like, so those are really exciting for me.

In terms of my experiences, I've had the the good fortune of having the chance to work in a variety of different roles in the Cigna businesses over the last 20 years that have given me perspective on the needs of our customers, perspective on the needs of our provider partners and perspective on the needs of our clients. And so I think bringing all of that perspective together will give me a good starting point in helping to build Evernorth to meet the needs of our clients and of the ecosystem overall.

Q: You were at the helm of the Express Scripts and Cigna merger, and you helped launch Evernorth. How would you say flexibility and finding new solutions has played into patient and member satisfaction?

EP: So at Evernorth, we're really focused on being a partner of choice. We use that phrase often. It's an important element of how we seek to work with others. When we can be a partner of choice to an employer or to a health plan or to whoever is our payer, we can get the best solutions for them, which helps to best meet the needs of our customers. We brought Cigna and Express Scripts together and then ultimately launched Evernorth. We did so with a view of having capabilities that can help get patients the right care at the right time, whether that's in the drug space or in the home setting or what have you. So bringing together all of those capabilities to get to a better customer experience and one that's affordable is really the priority. The state of the art is changing in terms of what's possible with virtual technologies. What's possible to be done in the home are things that we wouldn't have even dreamed of 10 years ago, and so it's pretty exciting to have all of the resources we've got to be able to deliver that for our patients.

Q: What are your biggest projects and priorities for your first year as CEO?

EP: Evernorth is set up around four different capabilities: to manage our clients' benefits through benefits plus solutions; provide the necessary medications through our pharmacy plus solutions; working to enable and empower care through our care plus solutions, and having a developing actionable intelligence to help our clients improve their performance all throughout the solutions. 

In terms of priorities specifically, I think it comes down to really a couple of specific categories. The first is continuing to build on the already strong foundation we have in regards to our core pharmacy operations; continuing to strengthen them and continuing to build on that. The second is to expand and really help with the affordability problems that are presented in the specialty pharmacy space. Specialty drug spending continues to grow rapidly.

The Accredo pharmacy that we own is the leading specialty pharmacy and is really positioned well to help our clients manage specialty costs with the number of new therapies coming in and the biosimilars on the horizon, we're positioned to really help our customers and our patients navigate through that landscape. So making sure we're ready for that is a real priority. 

And then the third would be around developing and executing on the growth plans for the connectivity that we can create across all of our capabilities, such as building and deeply integrating MDLive and building on our care solutions to help ensure that we've got all of the pieces effectively connected across our portfolio. 

Maybe the last one I'd add is just working on continued innovation. We've got a great track record of building solutions, and we've got to work to continue to innovate and bring new solutions to market and bring new insights to our clients to help them get the most from their healthcare dollar.

Q: What are two challenges for Evernorth over the next year?

EP: I think one of the top challenges that comes to mind for me is we've got to continue to raise the bar on making Evernorth the place where our team is showing up every day to create innovative solutions and solve our client's challenges. As we work through the disruption of COVID and a remote working environment, it's too easy to lose connection. And so just working to further deepen that connection with our clients is really important. I think we have a great track record, but I can't take it for granted. So working to continue to deepen those connections is really important. 

Healthcare is a challenging space. There are enormous needs. And so working to drive and deliver the speed and the precision around what all of our clients, our customers, our communities that we serve [need] is really important not to lose sight of in and of itself. But again, I think that the need for us to continue to innovate in this environment is both a challenge and our opportunity. And again, I like the track record we're building from.

Q: How would you say the industry has evolved since you became a part of it? 

EP: I think the industry has moved really significantly, but there's so much more to do. So over the course of the last 20 years, we're at a position now where we have much better information and we have much better insights into what's important in terms of measuring and evaluating performance and such. We also have much more complicated therapies than what existed even 20 years ago. So better information, more complexity in terms of the depth and cost and complexity of treatments and options and such—those things come together in interesting ways to help enable care pathways for patients that wouldn't have been possible 20 years ago but also present opportunities to help navigate them even more effectively. So if I had to boil it down, I think the huge increase in availability and usability of information would be one, and the continued growth and complexity of treatment and the high cost of those treatments is another major one.

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