Private exchanges are making a giant leap forward in how companies offer their employees benefits. For 2014 open enrollment, Accenture estimates that more than 3 million individuals enrolled in private exchanges — that’s three times what the consultancy previously estimated the number would be.

The original estimate was made in June 2013, and many things have happened throughout the year that led to the estimate being shattered, says Scott Brown, lead on Accenture’s private health insurance exchange offering. That included large employers making the move to private exchanges, including Walgreens, Sears and Petco. But most of the growth, Brown says, is still being driven from mid-market employers — those around 1,000 employees.

With the rapid growth, it has presented employees with important financial trade-off decisions, Accenture says. According to the company’s research, released Thursday, of those currently enrolled in private exchanges, 25% purchased less health coverage (measured in actuarial value) than they had previously. Accenture notes while those choices may have been made in order to decrease monthly premiums, they will add out-of-pocket costs for patients with higher deductibles.

The consultancy is sticking to its original estimate of 9 million enrollees in private exchanges for 2015.

“We think we still are on track and will see how the year goes. We're seeing even more [interest from] our clients, through employers, carriers, and exchange operators that we work with,” Brown says. “We are seeing increasing demand” for private exchanges.

Have all your private healthcare exchange questions been answered? Join us at EBN's Private Healthcare Exchanges Conference, on July 16-17 at the Swissotel Chicago, where you'll hear speakers from small, mid-size and large employers, leading exchange platforms, consultants and compliance experts.

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