Aetna U.S. Healthcare, the nation's largest health insurance provider, is building a new, $27 million home in Prince George's County for its national capital region headquarters.

The building's steel frame already stands on a 16.5-acre plot in the Inglewood Business Community office park in Largo. The 190,000-square-foot building eventually will house 1,100 employees and will be the nerve center for sales, marketing, patient treatment review and patient management for the 2 million customers in Washington, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

About 850 employees will move from Aetna's offices across the mid-Atlantic and Southeastern regions in July, and about 250 more employees will be hired, said Bernard Slosberg, regional medical director for the Blue Bell, Pa.-based health insurer.

"We looked at a number of adjacent counties" in the Washington area, and Prince George's was chosen "principally for the good value in the county, the good transportation and good amenities," such as its proximity to Baltimore-Washington International Airport, he said.

As a result of recent mergers, Aetna has many offices in the region, said Davita Vance-Cooks, site manager of the national capital region. Aetna merged with Prudential HealthCare in August and with NYLCare Health Plans of the Mid Atlantic Inc. last year. The new office will consolidate Aetna's operations, which are now in Greenbelt, Falls Church, Linthicum, Richmond, Baltimore, Charlotte and Raleigh, Vance-Cooks said.

The consolidation should not be a burden for most of Aetna's employees, Vance-Cooks said. About 98 percent of the 600 employees she will supervise already live in Prince George's, and the new location will be convenient for them, she said. Walter J. Cherniak Jr., regional spokesman for the health insurer, said hundreds of additional employees, including he and his family, are relocating to the Washington area because of the consolidation.

County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D) said the project is one of many in the county's pipeline that will spur other development. "I think its particularly important to recognize what it means for Aetna U.S. Healthcare to come into the county . . . for sustaining a healthy economic base," along with National Harbor, the US Airways Arena redevelopment and other projects in the Largo area, he said over the din of construction at Aetna's "development ceremony" last week. "The more of this you build, the more tax money we get," he said.

Joseph J. James, president and chief executive of the county's quasi-public Economic Development Corp., said Aetna benefited from a "fast track" permitting process, which he said streamlines the approval process from various county departments. It took four months for the permit to come through after site plans were submitted, compared with the normal year-long process, James said.

Aetna and Maryland's Department of Business and Economic Development are in the process of negotiating state financial assistance for the construction of Aetna's building, James said. He declined to comment on the amount or nature of that package, which he said would be announced in about a month.

Aetna, which serves 29 million people nationally, serves 1.5 million patients in the greater Washington area and 200,000 in Prince George's. In its network, the insurer has 1,700 doctors and six hospitals in the county, including Prince George's Hospital Center, Laurel Regional Hospital, Doctors Community Hospital in Lanham, Fort Washington Hospital, Bowie Health Center and Southern Maryland Hospital in Clinton.

CAPTION: County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D), center, is flanked by Bernard Slosberg, left, of Aetna U.S. Healthcare, and Joseph J. James of the county's Economic Development Corp. at the dedication of the health insurer's $27 million building. Curry said that the presence of the large employer will help the county sustain a healthy economic base.