Several brokers have positioned themselves as objective consultants within the private health insurance exchange marketplace, despite having their own exchanges.
Lockton Cos. L.L.C. and Crystal & Company, for example, both say they've insulated clients from bias by keeping their respective exchanges unbranded and untethered to dedicated technology providers, opting in-stead for customized exchange platforms via a range of providers.
Similarly, Willis North America Inc. offers both a branded private exchange and customizable exchange platforms through a “curated” group of technology providers.
However, Willis said its consulting efforts are less prone to bias in that, like Lockton and Crystal & Company, its financial investment in its products is far smaller than many competitors'.
“Clients are starting to ask questions that get at the heart of the economics involved,” said James Blaney, CEO of Willis' human capital practice. “You see some clients asking questions about the level of investment we've made in our exchange solution,” which he said has been modest in comparison to some of the company's closest competitors.
Additionally, Mr. Blaney said Willis' producers are paid “the same no matter what the client ultimately decides to do.”
“I think there's often a tremendous pull for companies that actually own the operating systems that are powering these exchanges to try to put their clients into their ex-change model, and that makes it hard for them to provide objective advice,” said Michael Smith, director of Lockton's exchange solutions practice in Boston.
“That was definitely a consideration for us,” said Joseph Scudiero, president and chief labor counsel at GEP Administrative Services Inc., a Los Angeles-based payroll administrator catering to film studios and production companies.
The company hired Lockton in early 2013 to study external exchange products that might provide a more comprehensive benefits administration and health care reform compliance resource for its clients.
“After Lockton learned about our business and what we needed in terms of a solution, it didn't take long for us to determine that there really wasn't a product out there in the marketplace,” Mr. Scudiero said. “It was pretty clear that we were going to have to start from scratch.”
Mr. Scudiero said Lockton was able to partner with health insurer Anthem Inc. and technology provider PlanSource Benefits Administration Inc. to build a custom exchange platform that catered to the needs of GEP Administrative Services' clients.
It includes the enrollment and plan termination flexibility necessary to meet film production deadlines and budget restrictions, he said.