Big employers such as Darden Restaurants, Sears, Starwood Hotels and Walgreen already make use of private exchanges to provide their employees with health insurance and other benefits and the number is expected to rise.

But just how sharply is an open question.

To track the growth of these online marketplaces, Employee Benefit News and Employee Benefit Adviser have created the Private Benefit Exchange Index.

To compile the PBE Index, EBA and EBN are collecting data from eight leading exchange operators on the number of employers using each platform, the number of employees enrolled in benefits through each platform and the number of lives covered by the policies sold through each platform.  Every month, the editors will aggregate and update the operators’ numbers – focusing in particular on employee enrollment, which many experts agree is the best indicator of growth. (The first edition of the Index is on the right.)

The eight exchanges selected by the editors to participate in the PBE Index are a representative cross-section of the operator market and include benefitsCONNECT, bswift, Hanna, Lockton, Medica, Simple Insurance, Softheon and Solstice. The information provided by these brokers, insurers and technology-platform companies is self-reported and rounded.

Granted, there is still some debate over what is, and what isn’t, a private benefit exchange. The editors defined it as a web platform that offers an online shopping experience and allows an organization’s employees to enroll in health and other benefits. Included in the category are three types of marketplaces: benefit-broker operated exchanges, single-payer exchanges and technology-platform-vendor exchanges. A group of private exchange experts were consulted and all supported the editors’ definition.

The PBE Index is complemented by a number of other EBA and EBN private exchange content offerings, including a series of SourceMedia Research reports on the benefit marketplaces, a fact-filled directory of exchange players, a dedicated web channel and a weekly newsletter featuring the latest benefit exchange news, analysis and insights.

The PBE Index is the first attempt to regularly track the growth of private exchanges and the editors expect the numbers to generate a fair amount of discussion. Your feedback is welcome.

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