Meet the executive who will be leading Cigna's plans for Medicare Advantage expansion

Cigna's logo displayed on a smartphone
Cigna has tapped a new executive to lead its Medicare Advantage business. (Piotr Swat/Shutterstock)

Cigna is moving full speed ahead with significant expansion in the Medicare Advantage market and has tapped a new exec to spearhead that effort. 

Aparna Abburi was named president of Cigna’s Medicare Advantage business earlier this month, joining Cigna after stints at the helm of Health Care Services Corporation’s Medicare business and leadership roles at Centene Corporation and UnitedHealth Group. 

Abburi told Fierce Healthcare that her decision to join Cigna was sealed by the insurer’s response to COVID-19, which she says “set the tone” for the industry. 

A headshot of Aparna Abburi
Aparna Abburi (Cigna)

“It really resonated with me,” she said. 

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Cigna views the MA space as ripe for significant growth, and the insurer announced ahead of open enrollment last year that it would launch its largest expansion ever into the market. Abburi teased similar plans are coming when insurers begin to formally announce their 2021 MA offerings. 

Cigna is overall aiming for 10% to 15% customer growth each year as a long-term goal. 

However, she said there’s still plenty of room for Cigna to grow in the Medicare market specifically. Her team is working to both grow offerings into geographies the insurer serves already with commercial plans and to expand the types plans available to seniors. 

Cigna is also “aggressively” eyeing the group Medicare market, Abburi said. 

Cigna is far from the only health plan that sees Medicare Advantage as a major opportunity for growth and a segment where profits are growing. Startup health plan Clover Health is planning to triple its geographic footprint in the 2021 plan year, and UnitedHealthcare added hundreds of thousands of MA members to its rolls during 2019 open enrollment. 

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It’s a trend Abburi doesn’t seen slowing down as baby boomers continue to age into the Medicare program over the next decade. Medicare Advantage enrollment has doubled over the past 20 years, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, growing from 18% of seniors enrolled in the program in 1999 to 36% in 2020. 

“It clearly won’t be the choice for 100% of them, but the needle moving toward more choosing MA,” Abburi said. 

And as insurers eye further growth in this market, the changes COVID-19 has brought to the industry, such as the massive expansion of virtual, must be a consideration as Medicare Advantage continues to evolve, she said. 

Those changes likely require an approach designed to best fit the senior market, Abburi said. 

“I think COVID is going to significantly alter some of the care delivery mechanisms,” she said. “But, you also have to be very mindful, especially in this population.”