Inside Evernorth’s New Behavioral Health Group

Last week Cigna’s (NYSE:CI) health service division Evernorth furthered its reach into the mental health sector with the launch of a new behavioral health group.

The hybrid behavioral health group, launched with over 1,000 clinicians, will focus on value-based and measurement-based care. Using virtual provider Octave’s technology suite, Evernorth plans to fully scale the service by 2025.

This move is part of a larger trend by payers to expand their reach into behavioral health through their health service divisions. For example, UnitedHealth Group’s health service division Optum acquired behavioral health provider Refresh Mental Health in 2022, and Elevance (NYSE: ELV) acquired Beacon Health Options (now Carelon Behavioral Health) in 2020.


Behavioral Health Business sat down with Eva Borden, president of behavioral health at Evernorth, to discuss how the behavioral health group came together, what it means for value-based care, and the future of behavioral health for Evernorth.

Could you walk me through the announcement and how this came together?

When I think about the care group’s impetus, it’s to enable broader access to quality, in-network clinicians while advancing value-based care. We’re focused on a few things. One is how to enable access to care faster, and that’s where we really put the average of 72 hours in place to make sure that we’re accomplishing that and in conjunction with online scheduling.

The second part that we’re really focused on is reducing the administrative burden for clinicians so that clinicians are able to practice and be the best versions of who they are.


Instead, we take on the things that can be cumbersome or that are often considered to be administrative hassles when working with any payer.

Finally, we’re really focused on tracking key metrics to hold ourselves accountable to outcomes.

I wanted to discuss the value-based care element. How do you plan to use your measurement-based care tools to implement it?

The very first step in measurement-based care is introducing measurement into behavioral health. Historically, clinicians have measured things in different ways, but I don’t know that we’ve done a good job as an industry of creating consistency around what we are measuring and how we make sure we actually aggregate it back so we can then tie that to demonstrable outcomes.

Evernorth Health Services has the opportunity to use data to answer big questions, such as, what is the value of behavioral care? Being able to take those outcomes, we can then take on risk and actually contract differently as a result of knowing the outcomes.

For example, we have found in our research that people who get into care within one month of diagnosis have 15% lower medical costs than those who wait four to six months.

Could you talk to me a little bit about the Octave relationship? How will that partnership help to develop this network?

Partnering with these behavioral health providers isn’t just about bringing a group together; it also involves enabling technology connections with these providers. Octave is a key component to ensuring that we deploy that technology.

Octave is also an enabler of the overall services we’re providing to those providers. The partnership has been a key tenant of Evernorth and the Cigna Group’s approach. So Octave is our partner to enable many of these pieces that we can ultimately use to bring back and create value across Evernorth and the Cigna Group.

What is the divide between virtual and in-person? Will both be scaled nationally?

First of all, let’s talk about some of the assets we do have that I think are really important. MDLive is a critical component of the virtual care we provide that complements when you have an opportunity to bring together PCP care with behavioral care.

So we already have a really nice asset in place with MDLive. The reason we’re augmenting with the Evernorth Behavioral Health Group is that many people seek hybrid care in the behavioral space; some patients will see clinicians in person a few times, or they may see them virtually.

The goal of the Evernorth Behavioral Health Group is to enable hybrid care that is agnostic to whether care is provided virtually or in person. We’re looking to have that scaling in place by 2025.

Will the network be partnering with other payers to provide services to their members?

We are absolutely empower the Cigna Health Care arm of behavioral services. 

However, because we are Evernorth Behavioral Health Services, we can serve outside Cigna Healthcare. That means we can show up in different ways to serve other health plans and employers who may not be with Cigna Healthcare.

This is really opening up an entirely new avenue for our participation in behavioral care. That wasn’t possible when we were just acting as a health plan.

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