Since the 2014 launch of Mercer’s private exchange, Mercer Marketplace has evolved to meet changing expectations of how a private exchange should operate. Now known as Mercer Marketplace 365, EBA spoke with Sharon Cunninghis, the firm’s U.S. health and benefits leader, about how the newly titled platform is focused on year-round client engagement. What follows is an edited version of the conversation.

EBA: As the private exchange market evolves, what changes have you made to your platform?

Cunninghis: We have pivoted away from the notion of a private exchange. That is the biggest change we have made. Our focus with Mercer Marketplace 365 is around a full-year experience for employees and their people.

The reason we pivoted away was because the notion of an exchange was around purely the enrollment experience and we’ve gone much further than that. We provide employees and their families with choices around different plan designs. Equally as important was supporting people to help them better navigate the healthcare system throughout the year. That means really understanding choice of providers, understanding cost and quality measures, providing access to nurse support and also providing access to second opinions.

EBA: Do you think private exchanges were overhyped or misunderstood?

Cunninghis: I would not say they were overhyped. What I would say is a lot of the initial work was around the enrollment experience and having a broader choice of plans, which many people didn’t have at the time. Go back four or five years, many employers were offering two or three plan designs and a single carrier. The exchange really opened up a world of a greater variety of choices for people during that enrollment experience. Lots of people moved to new types of plan design. Certainly there was a greater movement to higher deductible plans and there was a cost savings from that movement.

But, as I think about the second generation, and that was the whole notion of pivoting to Mercer Marketplace 365, it is more than simply that enrollment experience. Our ability to show and support employers with sustainable cost savings over the long term, is not only choices of plan design but also supporting choices throughout the year: How do I obtain healthcare? Where do I go? What happens to me if I find out that I have a serious or chronic illness? I would call it more of an evolution.

EBA: How has marketing the exchange changed for Mercer?

Cunninghis: It has changed in the sense that we spend a lot of time really educating around not only the importance of good choices during open enrollment but also good choices throughout the year when people actually use the healthcare system. Really, it is the combination of the two that is providing sustainable cost savings and we have seen sustainable cost savings.

EBA: What is the future of exchanges overall, and Mercer Marketplace 365 specifically?

Cunninghis: The market continues to evolve, so there is always an opportunity to take advantage of market changes and that continues to evolve. I will suggest that over time, we will continue to focus on personalization, making that experience more personal for each person based on their own needs. We’ve evolved the technology, we already moved to more of a mobile experience. All of that will continue to evolve over time. Of course, there will be new versions as we move forward.

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