As federal funding for state-run SHOP exchanges runs out in 2015, voluntary benefits may be the key to exchange sustainability, according to Ryan Howells, vice president and general manager of Connecture.

Maintaining the state-run exchanges costs on average $30 million to $60 million a year, he said at the Workplace Benefits Renaissance Tuesday in Atlantic City, N.J. States are eager to find ways to make the exchanges sustainable, and many are looking at fee-based ancillary products and services to do just that, he added.

States are also considering advertising, passing additional fees onto employees and grant funding, Howells said. “Sustainability is going to be a huge, huge problem,” he added.

Of those employers already enrolling in the SHOP marketplaces, Howells said, many are making large contributions — usually 70% to 100% of employees’ premiums. Surprisingly, he added, most individuals and employers that are enrolling are choosing the higher-level, gold coverage.

“The people who are enrolling now have been highly motivated to get coverage,” he explained.

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