As an actuarial science major at the University of Iowa, Eric Palmer was looking for a summer internship. Plenty of companies made the trip to Iowa City to recruit interns, but for Palmer, Cigna Healthcare stood out.
“I got the offer and had a Connecticut adventure in the summer of ’97, the year before I graduated college,” he said. Palmer liked Bloomfield, the Hartford suburb where The Cigna Group is headquartered, the people he worked with, and the opportunities that came along with his internship — so he returned to the company after graduation and never left. He even met his wife, Jen, there.
Today, Palmer is the president and CEO of Evernorth, The Cigna Group’s health services business, and a member of the enterprise leadership team. While he no longer works as an actuary, using data and statistics to assess risk, he uses the background, skills, and knowledge he gained in that and a variety of other roles to lead a rapidly growing organization that connects the best-in-class health capabilities Evernorth’s clients and customers want and need.
In tune and in sync
Palmer loves to sing, particularly symphonic music, and he performed for more than a decade with the Hartford Chorale, a large symphonic chorus. He served on the Chorale’s board of directors for a number of years as well.
As Palmer’s job and family got bigger, he needed to step away from the Chorale. “When I started, I had a middle-management role, no kids, and there were a handful of performances a year,” he said. “When I stepped away, the group had gotten to be more successful, I was in an executive role, and we had three kids.”
His entire family enjoys traveling and exploring the outdoors. “We like to be active,” Palmer said. “We've been tackling some of the national parks, and we have a lot more of those to go.” Australia is further off and farther away, but they would love to visit someday. “None of us have ever been, so that's on the list — but no plans just yet.”
When the children are older, Palmer hopes to return to the Chorale. “I really like the element of needing to be, and working hard to be, precisely in sync with a hundred-plus other people,” he said — an accomplishment in music and in business.
On the move
Early in his career, Palmer lived and worked in Chattanooga, Tennessee, leading some of Cigna Healthcare’s underwriting operations. “That was the first job where I was working directly with our sales team and clients, working to answer the question why we were better than our competitors,” he said. “I’ll never forget that experience.”
His next role represented a big change. He returned to Bloomfield for a stint in human resources, leading the actuarial development program — the program that had brought him to the company. “This was a great opportunity to become better at screening, recruiting, and attracting talent, which is really important,” Palmer said.
Before taking his current job, he worked in the finance department, including stints as the chief financial officer of the health care business and chief financial officer of the corporation. “One of the things that I appreciated about those roles was trying to make sure that we were working in service of a goal,” he said. “It sounds pretty obvious, but it’s sometimes easier said than done. Finding ways to connect the work of the finances of the organization to the overall company was something that was always a priority for me.”
Growing with the company
In December 2018, the company acquired Express Scripts. While Cigna Healthcare’s main focus was health insurance, Express Scripts was a pharmacy benefit manager that operated a specialty pharmacy and other businesses. Today, the combined company is No. 12 on the Fortune 500 list, with more than 70,000 employees across the world. Evernorth has more than 35,000 employees and serves more than 180 million customers.
Palmer was essential to integrating the companies. “The experience of bringing Cigna Healthcare and Express Scripts together was certainly a career-defining experience,” he said. “It was incredible to be able to play a large role in that. During that process, I could not have imagined that a few short years later I'd be leading a big chunk of that organization, so, it's been extra rewarding to come back around now and help to bring some of the ideas, the vision, the orientation, and the strategy that we had to life.”
Evernorth was launched in 2020 as The Cigna Group’s health services business, providing pharmacy, care, and benefit solutions to employers, health plans, and other businesses looking to improve the health of their members and the affordability of their plan.
“We're trying to make the health care system work better,” Palmer said. “There's so much opportunity to improve how the health care system overall provides care. We see opportunity to help people get their medicines more effectively. We see opportunity to help people get connected with the care they need more rapidly, whether virtually from home, at work, or in a clinic. We see opportunity to improve the experience, to take all these elements of fragmentation that are in the system and make them more streamlined for patients and for health care providers alike. Those are the things we’re working to solve.”