The number of small-group employers who offer group coverage is declining due to the soaring costs of health insurance. And of those employers with less than 50 employees who do provide group coverage, very few plans cover dependents.

That’s why small employers are thinking about moving to individual coverage — they want more predictable expenses year to year, says Jay McLauchlin, senior vice president of national sales at HealthPlan Services. Brokers need a tool to stay competitive during this shift from group employer-paid plans to individual policies — and a private exchange can help brokers maximize profits during the transition, McLauchlin said this week during the National Association of Underwriters’ annual conference in New Orleans.

Whatever solution is being utilized, it must be affordable for employees and a smooth transition for brokers, McLauchlin said. “If it’s not easy, you’re not going to do it,” he added.

The exchange must be easy to navigate and offer personalized choices, says David Holton, vice president of consumer sales at HealthPlan Services. The solution can’t be a one-size-fits-all approach where the only change that’s made is the company logo in the top corner, he said.

Here are eight features a private exchange should have:

1)      Keep the brand in front of your customers. The exchange should retain the goals of the broker and highlight why the business is unique, Holton said.

2)      Include free education and marketing support. This is the leading reason why private exchanges fail, Holton said. Exchange owners must be educated. Exchange owners should be well-versed with how the technology functions, he added. On the marketing side, the exchange should include webinars, customized sales slicks and pre-approved ads promoting under-65 and over-65 products, Holton said. “You’ve got to become a marketing machine.”

3)      Incorporate consumer-friendly and efficient technology. Unified quoting and simplified enrollment are key, Holton said, and the exchange must be a one-stop shop that includes a variety of products. A real-time dashboard is crucial to gauge performance and create organic leads, he said. Too often, private exchange owners wait until enrollment is over to look at the data, he added. 

4)      Offers a broad geographic footprint. The owner needs the option of determining whether the exchange is local or national, Holton said. “You set the boundaries for this,” he said. Whether products are purchased on or off the exchange, the process should feel the same for consumers, Holton said, and owners should have the ability to quickly add or drop carriers.

5)      Have a support team of consultants in all 50 states. A staff of licensed and ACA-certified agents should be providing advice to consumers, Holton said.

6)      Offers Medicare products. The exchange should provide sales and support for over-65 Medicare products, Holton said.

7)      An array of ancillary products. Supplementary products allow for cross-selling, Holton said. Just because open enrollment is closed, doesn’t mean business is closed, too, he said.

8)      Provides retention support. The renewal process can be confusing, Holton said, that’s why an exchange should have a team of agents to guide clients. 

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