All eyes may be on the public health insurance exchanges that come online this month, but private HIX operators continue to make news. And while dramatic changes to the benefits landscape are not expected anytime soon, market traction could take hold as Affordable Care Act mandates expand.

The Benefit Advisors Network has teamed up with Bright Choices Exchange operator Liazon, offering a private solution for tens of thousands of clients with more than 2 million employee lives among the employee benefits, property casualty and financial services areas. BAN's members include 47 independent benefit brokerage and consulting companies across the U.S.

Although the option is available for the upcoming enrollment season, BAN Executive Director Perry Braun predicts minimal adoption for 2014, followed by slightly larger numbers in 2015 as the employer mandate is implemented. But he sees an even greater penetration from 2016 to 2018 "assuming the early adopters are seeing success, and the approaching implementation of the 'Cadillac tax' will have some industries and employers looking hard at the defined contribution approach as a strategy."

The announcement comes on the heels of Highmark Health Services expanding its MyBenefits defined contribution health insurance platform with the help of a long-term strategic partnership with Array Health, a private HIX technology provider.

The Bright Choices Exchange is an online benefits store that allows employees to personalize their health, dental, vision, life, disability and other benefits from national and regional service providers. With the help of decision support and education, the hope is that employees will make smarter benefits selections.



Experience wanted

Braun says BAN sought "a private exchange administering a defined contribution strategy to support the employee in aligning their health and financial risk strategy to their budget."

Another key component included sophisticated decision-support tools that not only inform participants about their plans, but also help them navigate their options. Rounding out the wish list was an efficient transactional platform, as well as staffing resources to address questions and help educate employees.

Braun says the partnership will allow its employer clients to offer plans and carriers that fit their employee benefit strategy, and in the process, enable members to stay on the forefront of customer service and product offerings. The arrangement also will "operate as a fully functional web-based benefits administration platform to handle all enrollment, eligibility, carrier data feeds and reporting," he adds.

BAN and other advisers "are looking for new solutions to bring better benefits options to their clients," Michael Karp, Liazon's chief revenue officer, said in a statement. "The Bright Choices Exchange helps businesses control costs while increasing employee satisfaction - a rare combination."

Founded in 2002, BAN membership is limited within a given geographic market to an exclusive community of prescreened, highly skilled and innovative firms.

Shutan, a frequent EBA contributor, is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer.

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