By Kathryn Mayer
CHICAGO — What do employers
who are early private exchange adopters think of the initial experience?
In a word: tough.
But also worth it.
“Of course there were bugs, there were kinks. There was confusion. There’s a learning curve,” Karen Limestall, HR manager at Budnick Converting, Inc. in St. Louis, said during the private exchange conference. “Next year I think it will be much easier.”
Four benefits managers from small and mid-sized firms talked about what their companies went through adopting an exchange during a panel Thursday at the Private Health Care Exchanges Conference in Chicago, hosted by Employee Benefit News and Employee Benefit Adviser.
Initial communication to employees about the private exchange was among the biggest problems cited.
“The biggest challenge is communication and education,” said Leslie Vander Gheynst, HR director at Keller Williams Realty in Austin, Texas. “Rolling out this fully integrated technology system, and telling your employees about it … getting that out there in a very effective manner can be very challenging.”
Change is always hard for employees, explained Charlotte Anderson, vice president, benefits and workers’ compensation at San Francisco-based nonprofit ABHOW, noting that her employees still ask about Kaiser Permanente benefits even though they no longer offer the carrier's benefits in the new exchange model.
ABHOW uses the Mercer Marketplace, with benefits cloud management company Benefitfocus supporting the backend.
“The main goal of this is to make our employees accountable — to take away the handholding of going through enrollment,” explained Karen Fillback, HR specialist for the Miller-Valentine Group, a real estate management company in Dayton, Ohio. But she admitted it’s initially a little scary for both the employer and employees “when you just say, ‘Here’s the link [to the exchange]…and I’ll see you online when you’re done.”
It was initially hard to engage the workforce with the private exchange the first year, they agreed.
But, Gheynst said, her employees are now “thrilled by it.”
“They are excited to have this robust private exchange platform, where they can shop easily and simply,” she said. “The feedback we’re getting validates our experience.” The availability of ancillary benefits is especially attractive, Gheynst said.
The panelists were all quick to praise the brokers they work with in making the exchange successful.
“We would have never considered a private exchange without having our broker pitch it to us,” Limestall said. And they have helped make the transition much more seamless. “Our broker sat down with every employee and helped talk them through [the exchange] process.”
Savings, though, have been hard to quantify, they admitted when pressed by an audience member.
They haven’t yet saved money, and in fact have spent much more on setting up the technology and paying for the private exchange operators.
But that’s to be expected, Fillback explained.
“For us, it’s more of a long-term goal to get self-funded,” she said. “In the long-term, we’re confident we’re going to save money. We want to get our employees involved [in their health care] and see the cost [of coverage]. When they really decide about the health care cost for themselves and that of their family, that will decrease costs over time.”
Miller-Valentine, which employs 745 people in 22 states, uses Liazon for its private exchange.
And as for taking away some of the HR burden? That hasn’t happened fully.
“We remind them they can log into the website all the time,” Limestall said.
Originally published on BenefitsPro.com