Real estate company Keller Williams is one of the latest big firms to announce it’s offering associates access to a private health care exchange. Keller Williams’ independently owned and operated offices employ about 89,000 real estate agents — many of whom don’t have health insurance — across the country.

The private exchange will be offered through ConnectedHealth, starting Dec. 1 and will replace the company’s mini-medical plans.

The move to the private exchange was first discussed about two years ago when “everything solidified with the Affordable Care Act and we knew the pay-or-play mandate was going to be in effect,” says Leslie Vander Gheynst, director of human resources, Keller Williams Realty International. “So the conversation really started around this mandate and making sure there was an option for our associates.”

The exchange is being rolled out to the firm’s realtors through a series of webinars led by Keller Williams’ broker, Willis, as well as through an email campaign, ads on the firm’s intranet and leadership training.

The company also talked about the exchange at its recent convention, which was attended by about 8,000 agents. “A lot of them stopped by the [wellness] booth and you would not believe the relief our associates felt by just having an option, to know there would be something they could go to,” says Vander Gheynst.

Real estate is a competitive industry, and the company is launching the exchange in conjunction with a broader wellness program. “The more they can do to influence and provide value to these agents, all the better,” says Joe Donlan, president of ConnectedHealth, which runs the Smart Choices exchange. “It’s a common theme we’re seeing.”

Donlan says the last few months have seen greater interest in private exchanges, particularly for those employers with large part-time populations. “We’ve seen more interest from employers that have that large 1099 population. It is a trend we’re seeing we think will accelerate over the course of 2014 and 2015,” he says.

Aon Hewitt announced last month it will be offering health benefits to more than 330,000 U.S. employees this open enrollment period. A total of 18 employers, including Walgreen, Sears Holdings and Darden Restaurants, will use the consulting firm's private exchange.

With respect to the launch of the public exchanges last week, “there is clearly a thirst for individuals to find and access affordable health insurance coverage,” says Donlan. “It’s a little troubling people haven’t been able to access the [federal] site but at the same time, I take it as a positive in that people are clamoring for affordable coverage.”

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