The dissatisfaction, disappointment and frustration with launch of the federal health insurance exchange could be expected, especially with the constantly elevating level of consumer expectations for e-commerce and other online systems.

The government now says that the exchange’s major glitches have been worked out and that with the hiring of Accenture, a veteran technology consulting firm, the projects bumps are in the past.  Having built and released an online platform for one of my companies, CareXtend, I would err on the side of caution in assuming the federal exchanges will see totally smooth sailing going forward.

Meanwhile, the number of private exchanges continues to grow. So far this month, both Liazon and Cigna announced they were opening online marketplaces.

Private exchanges are in a very good position to succeed.

The ones I’ve worked with directly through CareXtend.com are better aligned with the consumer-centric mentality. CareXtend is a new, consumer-friendly online marketplace that offers health and wellness services beyond what’s traditionally covered by core health insurance (imagine an “Amazon” for healthcare). 

With the private exchanges, there are no shackles of legacy systems, processes, and politics. Beyond just the technical components, private exchanges already have the organizational structures and internal processes in place to meet and exceed the dynamic and fluid nature of consumer needs. 

Private exchanges not only provide more contemporary user interfaces, they’re also the leaders in the movement to redefine “health.”  Today employers seek to provide employees with ways to live healthier through services outside of traditional insurance coverage. They understand that being active participants in their employees’ quest to live better and longer benefits all parties involved. And, yes, they’re looking to add services such as those we provide at CareXtend.com. 

Defined contribution is rapidly changing how employees buy healthcare.  Of course, many will use their allocated dollars to still buy core health insurance; but using these dollars to purchase other voluntary and ancillary covered services, such as dental and vision, is a more difficult sell.  Many consumers do the math in their head and quickly struggle with the “break even” proposition – will they use more or less services than the amount they pay in premium.  That’s why consumers would rather buy these types of services “a-la-carte” when they need them.  So now CareXtend.com is integrating its online marketplace into the private exchanges workflow so employees can buy these services, which are not typically covered by core health insurance “a-la-carte.”  And this also gives these consumers the ability to buy services beyond dental and vision, including things like fitness, weight loss, nutrition, acupuncture, chiropractic services and massage.  The makes the employees feel like their defined contribution dollars are being put to good use.

It’s truly exciting to watch this long needed evolution of what “health” means and how it is accessed. Exchanges, even the federal version, are critical partners in achieving this.

But consumers will continue to expect the same accountability, ease-of-use and quality results with healthcare as they do from everything else they purchase online.

Also See: HIX: What The Government Should Do Now.

Pierce is President of Stonegate Advisors a research and data analytics firm focused solely on the health and wellness industry, and CEO of CareXtend, the first digital marketplace designed specifically to help individuals reduce their spending on healthcare products and services not typically covered by health insurance.  He can be reached at 312-397-1111 or mpierce@stonegateadvisors.com.

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