As the private exchange marketplace becomes larger with each passing week, the challenge for employers is to evaluate the entrance of new HIX operators relative to more established players in hopes of best meeting their unique employee benefits delivery needs.

The key ingredient to such decision-making will be obtaining objective advice.

“There is a clear need for an independent advocate, not just to identify the right vendor, but to determine the feasibility,” according to Nancy Scola Lombaer, a partner with Laurus Strategies, which specializes in HR, benefits and risk-management solutions.

The firm recently formalized the launch of its Private Exchange Consulting practice created in 2013 to provide independent, best-in-class health benefits consulting in the evolving HIX online marketplace.

PEC clients are given an impartial assessment of all their available options to complete so that they can decide on their best course of action. In announcing the practice, Laurus Strategies President Scott Carter said: “We aspire to be the trusted, unbiased partner advising clients as they navigate this new health insurance frontier.”

It’s estimated that there are more than 100 private exchanges now available, including a handful of prominent benefit consulting firms that have developed or purchased their own HIX, as well as scores of smaller operations run by brokers and other carriers.

Late last year, PricewaterhouseCoopers launched the Private Exchange Evaluation Collaborative in partnership with the Employers Health Coalition, Midwest Business Group on Health, Northeast Business Group on Health and Pacific Business Group on Health. That group’s mission also is to solicit and provide unbiased, comparative information and support on private exchange strategies and purchasing decisions.

Bruce Shutan is a Los Angeles freelance writer.

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