As the first quarter of 2003 comes to a close on Monday, enrollment at former No. 1 commercial insurer Aetna is bottoming out and the company is turning its focus to growth in small-business and consumer-directed plans, CEO John Rowe, M.D., says.
Aetna also is preparing to bid for a contract to manage benefits for Tricare, the managed care arm of the Military Health System.
"The low point will be next week, and then we will see an advance" in enrollment, Rowe said Thursday at the Banc of America Securities healthcare investors' conference in Las Vegas. "We will in fact show a net increase in membership this year."
Aetna had nearly 13.7 million enrollees at the end of 2002, making it the second-largest health insurance company in America, but planned to drop to about 13 million patients at the end of the 2003 first quarter, which would put it about even with Cigna and WellPoint Health Systems. UnitedHealth Group now is the nation?s largest commercial payer.
Rowe does not forecast future enrollment levels but says: "We are looking for profitable membership growth after the first quarter."
On Wednesday, Aetna announced plans to offer its small-group products on benefitcentral.com, a Web site for insurance brokers. According to Rowe, this represents a new push to sell health insurance plans to businesses with two to 50 employees.
As this new strategy may not have much of an effect on the balance sheet until later in the year, Rowe says Aetna growth during the first half of 2003 will come from national customers.
Rowe also says Aetna will bid for Tricare business, which has the potential to bring in $1 billion in annual revenues.