Cigna hopes to marry convenience to cost effectiveness with a new benefit package that covers enrollees who get treatment for common ailments at MinuteClinic health care centers.

"Effective Feb. 1, MinuteClinics will be part of our national provider network and services obtained by a member at a MinuteClinic will be a covered benefit for Cigna members," says Wendy Sherry, Cigna's assistant vice president for strategy, product, and marketing.

There are currently 71 MinuteClinics operating in Indiana, Minnesota, Maryland, North Carolina, Georgia, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Washington. They are open seven days a week. Hours vary by location, but they are generally open in the evening so that working people can use the service without taking time off. The MinuteClinics are in retail outlets such as Target, CVS, Bartell Drugs, and Cub Foods stores.

The clinics are staffed by nurse practitioners and physician assistants with a supervising physician on call during all hours of operation, said MinuteClinic CEO Michael Howe.

Allen Woolf, MD, a pediatrician and national medical executive for Cigna, says that "Because of today's increasingly busy schedules, members have told us they want flexible hours, convenience, quick and affordable access to a clinician, and more choices in how they handle minor medical conditions."

Sherry wants to get the word out to Cigna members. "MinuteClinic is expanding rapidly so we are encouraging our members to visit for updated information and a direct link to the MinuteClinic Web site."

Most of the services offered at the clinics range from $49 to $59, according to Cigna. "Therefore, a member with a 20 percent coinsurance who accesses a service of $49 would pay only $9.80 for a visit, assuming their deductible has been met," Cigna says in a prepared statement.

If the Cigna enrollee gives permission, treatment and screening results obtained at the MinuteClinic will be faxed automatically to that member's primary care physician. The primary care doctor can then update the patient's medical record and decide what, if any, follow-up treatments are needed.

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