Richard di Benedetto, executive vice president of Aetna International, has big plans for the organisation he joined almost a year ago. Health Insurance Daily editor David Sawers asks him how technology, the acquisition of InterGlobal and partnerships with brokers will form the bedrock of those ambitions
As Richard di Benedetto approaches his first anniversary in charge of Aetna International, it might be a little too early to ask him what he would like his legacy there to be.
However, it’s clear that while his career at the international private medical insurance (iPMI) giant might still be in its relative infancy, he has some deep-seated ambitions about what he plans to achieve
there. And, like the insurer he is working for, those ambitions are big – very big.
For a start, di Benedetto, who joined Aetna International in June of last year, wants to transform the organisation from being not just an insurance business, but a healthcare solutions business too.
A question of scale
A big ambition indeed, simply given Aetna’s size. After all, the organisation is one of the world’s largest health benefits businesses, serving more than 600,000 members living and working in nearly every country around the globe.
Scale, though, is something that di Benedetto is used to, having spent 15 years with GE Healthcare earlier on in his career. In his most recent role there, he served as the president and chief executive officer of the organisation’s Eastern and Africa Growth Markets, growing the business 27% in his first year in the role and expanding the company’s global footprint of more than 80 countries in emerging markets through a combination of organic and inorganic growth.
A subsequent three year spell as chief executive officer of Euromedic International saw him run one of Europe’s largest private medical services providers in the field of diagnostic services, laboratories and cancer treatment, operating 130 centres in 15 countries and employing more than 3,000 people.
Both were roles that he enjoyed but the opportunity to join Aetna International, he says, was too good to pass. So what attracted him to the role – aside from its scale?
“I was impressed by the commitment of the board and all layers throughout Aetna International to execute on the organisation’s vision – to empower people to live healthier lives,” di Benedetto says.
“Then there is the quality and depth of the talent here and, of course, our commitment to international markets.”
Harnessing all of that will prove key to his achieving that ambition of entrenching Aetna International’s position as a healthcare solutions business.
“This will be achieved by developing integrated healthcare solutions that span the globe using talented people, generating knowledge through data analytics and via strategic partnerships,” di Benedetto explains.
Also key will be the role of technology on improving global health and containing medical costs, di Benedetto continues. Technology, he says, will be the “backbone” of the market in the years to come.
“Aetna has built a large portfolio of health information technology that we are bringing to healthcare systems around the world. Our technology solutions can improve access to more effective healthcare and empower medical providers and individuals,” he explains.
Over the years, fragmented healthcare systems around the world have impeded the patient’s healthcare journey, di Benedetto explains. Technology, he believes, will allow systems to exchange data more effectively and better coordinate patient care.
“Turning all this data into insight through advanced analytics will create guidance and actions for medical providers and individuals that will improve patient outcomes,” he says.
What, though, does that mean in practice?
“Take the example of a patient with severe asthma that is proving difficult to treat effectively,” he explains. “By collecting and analysing data from around the world on how this disease is being treated, and what constitutes best practice in asthma care, potentially life-changing gaps in care can be identified. Identification of gaps can be communicated both to the treating clinician and – crucially – also to the patient.”
Aetna International, di Benedetto argues, will play the central role in this new landscape.
“Aetna is a leader in health information exchange and has prominent businesses that focus on data collection and analytics,” he says.
But what about what is arguably the most pressing issue facing the iPMI market today? What impact can technology have on managing cost and tackling rising medical inflation?
“Technology is an important driver in improving productivity and lowering costs,” di Benedetto says. “For example, Aetna International is investing in improvements to online claims submission, allowing both claimants and healthcare providers to submit a claim through our secure portals or through our apps. The submission goes straight into the Aetna systems reducing processing costs and time – all of which helps to keep a lid on rising iPMI premiums.”
All of which will also be music to the ears of brokers and their iPMI clients who have been doing their best over recent years to get to grips with spiralling costs across the market as a whole – efforts which di Benedetto is keen to acknowledge.
“Brokers play a vital role in client education and how to control the premium inflation spiral,” he says. “The role of the broker is critical across a whole range of issues. Brokers are best placed to assess client needs and to work with insurers to create the solutions to best cater for those needs.”
With this in mind, di Benedetto pledges that Aetna International will continue to equip brokers with the tools they need to help them do their job.
“We’re doing this by recruiting highly effective management teams and developing an extensive suite of online tools, such as our Country Profiler tool, which aims to support our brokers in giving best advice to clients,” he says.
The tool, which provides information on issues like local healthcare and regulatory requirements in different countries, has been welcomed by brokers and there is little doubt that Aetna International has stepped up its efforts to support and work with intermediaries in recent years.
Indeed, those efforts were rewarded when brokers voted the organisation Best Group International Private Medical Insurance Provider at the Health Insurance Awards last year. And as voting gets underway for this year’s Health Insurance Awards, brokers will be keeping a close eye on Aetna – and, of course, its competitors.
For a start, they will be looking at the impact of Aetna’s acquisition of InterGlobal, the highly-regarded iPMI provider, that was completed in April.
That acquisition, de Benedetto says, provides a number of “excellent” benefits for the Aetna International business and brokers operating in the iPMI market. So what attracted Aetna to the provider?
In addition to a well-developed iPMI proposition in Asia and the Middle East, InterGlobal, di Benedetto explains, offers a strong product set, particularly for individuals and SME business, complementing Aetna’s established strength in large corporate business.
InterGlobal offered a number of strong agency relationships across the globe in key markets such as Hong Kong, Malaysia and South Africa, di Benedetto continues.
“We were also very much attracted to the high touch end-to-end model that InterGlobal offer their brokers and customers alike,” he says. “We are looking forward to working with the great people
that InterGlobal has to continue to establish ourselves as a powerhouse in this market, and to make sure we incorporate the best ideas and practices of both organisations as we move forward.”
So, as he himself moves forward to his first anniversary at Aetna International, this self-professed entrepreneur is already leaving his mark – or, as he says, “planting flags”.
And maybe, then, it’s not too early to be talking about legacies after all. In the end, like his ambitions, those potential legacies turn out to be pretty big.
“I want to make Aetna International the global leader in iPMI,” he says. “I want people everywhere to have access to quality, affordable care.”
RICHARD DI BENEDETTO – BIOGRAPHY
Richard di Benedetto joined Aetna in June 2013 from Euromedic International, where he served as chief executive officer for one of the largest European private medical services providers in the field of diagnostic services, laboratories and cancer treatment.
Prior to Euromedic, he spent 15 years with GE Healthcare. During his time with GE, he held a variety of leadership roles with increasing responsibility, including general manager, Medical Systems, for Eastern European Operations, and vice president Sales Europe, Middle East, and Africa for the Medical Equipment division.
Most recently he served as the president and chief executive officer of Eastern and Africa Growth Markets.
He also worked for the Econocom Group SA based in France and Germany from 1987 to 1994. Richard di Benedetto studied economics at Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1986.
He and his wife, Brigitte, have two children.