(Adds comments from CEO)
By Caroline Humer
NEW YORK, Dec 20 (Reuters) - Cigna Corp on Thursday closed its $54-billion deal to buy Express Scripts Holding Co, creating one of the biggest providers of pharmacy benefits and insurance plans in the United States, a combination it says will help it improve healthcare coordination and cut costs.
Cigna's deal puts it in direct competition with two other healthcare companies set up the same way - Aetna with CVS Health Corp and UnitedHealth Group Inc with Optum. Cigna's deal has already passed antitrust scrutiny.
Cigna will start offering new products next year to its corporate health insurance customers, including access to Express Scripts' specialty pharmacy, which has cost savings programs in treatment areas such as cancer, its top executive said in an interview on Thursday.
Prescription drugs that require special handling and are delivered to a doctor's office or patient home by specialty pharmacies are a growing part of employer healthcare spending and rising U.S. drug costs. Many new drugs costs tens of thousands of dollars when they are launched and drugmakers raise the price of older drugs once or twice a year.
The company will also try to improve products and services by integrating healthcare data, he said.
"There's a lot of data available today but it's either not aggregated in a singular place or coalesced in a way that's intuitive," Cigna Chief Executive Officer David Cordani said in an interview. (Reporting by Caroline Humer Editing by Nick Zieminski)