Sam’s Club, the big-box members-only warehouse, decided to offer health insurance to its customers through a private health care exchange because those small business owner-members were asking for it. In October, the retail chain said it was partnering with Aetna to offer health insurance to members through a private exchange to small businesses.

“One thing we pride ourselves on at Sam’s is listening to our members,” said John Luebker, Sam’s senior director of H&W Rx merchandising and managing markets during Employee Benefit News’ Private Healthcare Exchanges Conference in New York City Thursday. From those surveys, the two things small business owners requested was getting the right products and second was help with their insurance.

For Aetna, working with Sam’s presented “a great opportunity for us to partner and provide insurance to small groups,” said Cathy Gobes, Aetna’s head of private exchanges. “We are in the small group business already, we have a small group exchange and we thought we could private solutions right off the top that would help make a difference.”

Although the marketplace is co-branded as powered by Aetna, Sam’s Club is not getting paid in the process and Gobes said it was key that Sam’s Club not be listed as an agent, not licensed, nor selling the product. “We had lots of conversation with our lawyers to make sure that is the case and there is nothing [tying Sam’s Club] to the insurance,” she said. “We have a small share of the [small business] market and this is an opportunity for us to reach another population.

“Some might use brokers today,” she added. “We are not trying to work around that, [instead we are] trying to provide a solution.”

Sam’s promoted this new offering through a variety of means that they use to reach their members including e-mail and direct mail. Further, they educated their optical and pharmacy staff since they were getting questions by curious small business owners.

The program was piloted in Florida in July, launched in October in 18 states, which expanded to 21 states on Monday.

So far, Aetna has seen about 2,500 requests for information and 1,000 requests for a quote, of which 500 were qualified. To date, 150 proposals have been sent out with an average employee population of five.

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