A leading private exchange operator’s satisfaction survey shows that employees who shopped online for their health insurance in 2013 have a surprisingly high understanding of, and appreciation for, the value of this new sophisticated marketplace.

The research that Phoenix Marketing International conducted on behalf of Liazon Corporation suggests that consumers of the operator's Bright Choices Exchange are savvy, empowered and making smart health care choices. They’re also said to be satisfied with their benefit elections and online shopping experience, benefiting from well-crafted communications.

Responses gathered last summer from 54 employers and 207 employees stand in stark contrast to widespread confusion and cynicism over technical roadblocks to signing up online for public HIX options. These key findings are detailed in a new white paper called Shopping for Benefits On the Private Health Exchange: The Rise of a Smarter and More Empowered Health Care Consumer.

“There were those in the industry who said employees, accustomed to the one-size-fits-all coverage model, would be intimidated by the number of choices offered on private exchanges,” says Alan Cohen, Liazon’s chief strategy officer. “This survey indicates that’s not the case – quite the contrary.”

At a time when most health care decisions hinge on price, Bright Choices plan participants do not seem hamstrung by cost considerations. For example, 53% of survey respondents sought benefits that offered “the right level of coverage,” while just 23% made their selections based on the lowest cost option.

Communication appears to be a key ingredient to their success. The survey found that 63% of employees say they are more aware of the costs of medical care than before and 60% say they are more engaged in decisions about their own care. The employers surveyed offer a more sanguine view, with 83% believing their employees are more aware of the costs of medical care and 65% describing them as more engaged in health care decisions.

As a result of more appropriate choices being made and efficient behavior taking hold, employers are better able to bend the cost curve. Of the employers surveyed, 82% report that moving to the private HIX has kept health benefit costs flat or lowered their tab. Researchers say the finding is particularly compelling because traditional plans are averaging 10% annual cost increases.

All survey participants had a minimum of five Liazon health plan options, which was half the average number of offerings. Other benefit options offered included dental, vision, disability, life, FSAs, legal plans, telemedicine and pet insurance.

Roughly 40% of employee respondents said this was just the right amount of choice for them, while 32% noted that there could never be enough choices, 17% said there were not enough choices and 10% indicated there were too many choices. Most of those employees (75%) said they were satisfied or very satisfied with the experience of shopping for benefits online.

More than two-thirds of employees are satisfied or much more satisfied with the benefits they selected through Bright Choices compared to previous plans. The Bright Choices Exchange uses statistical modeling to predict the right combination of plans for each person’s individual needs based on a series of questions about themselves, their dependents, their health, network preferences. Liazon supports more than 2,400 businesses nationwide through a distribution network of broker partners.

Shutan is a Los Angeles freelance writer.

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