Insurance exchanges, chief among all of the many changes to our health care system brought on by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, are sure to dominate the benefits landscape of 2013.

We now know that 18 of the 50 states have agreed to establish their own health insurance exchanges, and at least four additional states will enter a partnership with the federal government to create them, while the rest are turning the task over to the federal government entirely.

Sure, some in the business are predicting the Jan. 1, 2014 implementation deadline will be relaxed, but meanwhile, private insurance exchanges of all manner, such as ones run by Aon Hewitt or Arthur J. Gallagher in partnership with Liazon Corp., are wasting no time getting off the ground. And unlike federal exchanges, they don't need to wait until 2017 to open their doors to large employers.

On the public side, the good news for brokers unsure of their role in PPACA's exchanges is recent data from Eastbridge Consulting Group show a plurality (37%) of more than 700 surveyed employers of all sizes say there is "little to no chance" they will send employees to the state exchanges. However, the next largest response (25%) came from those who still don't know if they will do so. Further, one in five expects to send their employees to the exchanges for health, dental and other types of coverage.

The bottom line: Like PPACA, the exchange model, be it public or private, is not going away. You are behind the eight ball if you have not familiarized yourself with it by now.

The leaders of the top broker lobbying groups in Washington know this, and they are doing everything in their power to ensure the regulatory process plays out in a way most favorable to employer-sponsored benefits. In this month's cover story, EBA sat down for an exclusive interview with all four of the head lobbyists for the Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers, Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, National Association of Health Underwriters and National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors for a candid discussion of what must be accomplished in 2013 to ensure the future of the employee benefit advising business.

You can bet exchange implementation was a primary concern. While federally facilitated exchanges seem to be playing out in a broker-friendly way, "We don't take anything for granted here," says NAHU's Janet Trautwein. "We're going to stay on top of it."

And so is EBA. Read our eye-opening interview with the organizations, "Down to business" on p. 20, then learn about the essential technology needs of any health insurance exchange, "10 exchange considerations" on p.38 for an insider's take on what it takes to succeed in the exchange business.

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