May 13, 2009 / 2:37 PM / 10 years ago

UPDATE 1-Cigna CFO says co open to options for drug unit

* Says price of WellPoint’s PBM sale drew attention

* Cigna shares rise 0.8 percent

NEW YORK, May 13 (Reuters) - Health insurer Cigna Corp (CI.N) is open to exploring strategic options for its drug benefits business, its chief financial officer said on Wednesday, in the wake of a rival insurer selling its own such unit.

Investors are eager to see if other health insurers will follow in the footsteps of WellPoint Inc WLP.N, which last month agreed to sell its prescription benefits unit to Express Scripts Inc ESRX.O for $4.68 billion.

Cigna, along with Aetna Inc AET.N and UnitedHealth Group Inc (UNH.N), also has a significant pharmacy benefit unit.

“In light of WellPoint’s recent announcement with Express Scripts, we are open to looking at strategic alternatives,” Cigna CFO Mike Bell said in response to a question at a Bank of America conference, which was broadcast over the Internet.

The main benefit of owning the pharmacy benefit business, Bell said, relates to Cigna’s ability to offer customers integrated clinical information that can improve health of their members, such as data about whether they are staying on their medications.

“If we were going to go down that path, it would be important that we not dilute our ability to offer integrated clinical programs in the marketplace, because that is part of our competitive advantage,” Bell said.

However, he noted, “The price tag of the WellPoint acquisition certainly got a lot of people’s attention, certainly ourselves included.”

Cigna shares were up 17 cents, or 0.8 percent, at $21.67 in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange, outperforming shares of other health insurers. (Reporting by Lewis Krauskopf, editing by Maureen Bavdek)

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