Enrollment in private health insurance exchanges will likely match the public exchanges by 2017, when about 18% of Americans are expected to purchase their plans through the HIX model, according to Accenture research. 

A recent issue brief from the global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company also suggests that private exchanges will become the premier conduit for many of the 170 million people who receive benefits through their employer. The bullish outlook prevails even though there were fewer than one million enrollees in private exchanges in 2012.

The problem is that consumers across all demographic categories are unaware of – and ill prepared for – these changes, which the researchers say will require that employers, brokers and carriers brace for dissatisfaction among health plan participants and do what they can to enhance employee experiences.

“Private exchanges will shift considerable financial responsibility to employees, expanding choice yet requiring users to become superior individual risk managers,” according to the Accenture issue brief. “The majority of survey respondents remain wary that firms are merely looking to shift costs to employees – a notion that employers should quickly work to dispel.”

Of 2,000 U.S. consumers responding to an online survey Accenture conducted in March, 83% were entirely unfamiliar with the private HIX concept. A recent Kaiser health tracking poll came to a similar conclusion regarding the level of awareness about public exchanges, which actually fell to 58% of respondents from 62% two years earlier.

But that’s not to say consumers aren’t open to the HIX concept. Accenture found that 85% of those surveyed expressed a neutral to positive outlook once it was explained to them. Respondents expressed interest in having access to greater choice, flexibility and personalized product selection and most were even willing to share personal information in order to receive personalized recommendations through the platform.

Accenture cited other recent industry research to support its argument. They include Mercer reporting that 56% of employers are considering a private exchange for their active employees or retirees and Aon Hewitt’s survey finding that 28% of employers are contemplating this move in the next three to five years.

Shutan is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer.

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