Cigna's customer satisfaction surges to meet industry average, which is still dismal

After a tough year in 2017, Cigna has managed to rejoin the competition when it comes to customer satisfaction.

The insurer made up notable gains this year, reaching a score of 73 in the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). Rising up 11% from last year's 66, that score pulled it equivalent to the industry average.

Courtesy of American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI)

Industry leaders Humana and Kaiser Permanente, meanwhile, have consistently stayed ahead of the trend. Customers cited Kaiser's fast claim processing and comprehensive prescription coverage, according to ACSI, while Humana customers praised the insurer's access to primary and specialty care.

Still, the overall average for health insurance falls far below what customers tend to expect from other types of insurance. While similar insurance companies generally score in the low 80s in ACSI's annual surveys, health insurance has consistently stayed in the low 70s.

"Health insurance is, by far, the most problematic and least satisfying category in the sector, in part because it is also the most complicated and controversial," ACSI wrote in its report. "It is much more difficult to deliver high-quality customer service and assess value for health insurance compared with other financial services."

Courtesy of American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI)

But patients have been clear about their issues with the way health insurance is provided.

In particular, customers are increasingly unsatisfied with call center representatives, giving them a satisfaction score of 71; "by far the lowest score in the sector," ACSI wrote.

Customers also said it is difficult to understand information on insurance statements and that insurers don't make enough plans available.

Moreover, though, the industry has simply not improved significantly since last year. Customer experience benchmarks have largely been in line with 2017 figures, with modest gains in satisfaction toward primary care doctors but dissatisfaction elsewhere (see chart).

So, if overall benchmarks didn't improve, how did Cigna specifically overcome so much customer dissatisfaction? It may have something to do with the insurer—and the industry at large—moving toward consolidation. ACSI noted that the only insurers that posted positive gains this year, Cigna and Aetna, are separately pursuing sizable mergers.

"Leading up to its merger with CVS, Aetna inches up 1% to 75. Aetna also has the top-rated mobile app in the industry. Cigna, which is acquiring Express Scripts, posts a huge gain of 11%, moving out of last place to meet the industry average (73). Cigna also has the lowest complaint rate in the industry," ACSI wrote.