"Going from 1 million to 40 million in five years is ... hypergrowth," says Rich Birhanzel, managing director of Accenture's Health Administration Services.
Another study by Mercer, a global consulting company that launched a private insurance exchange for large employers in January, predicts that by 2018, nearly 30 percent of the commercial market will be served by private insurance exchanges. The company recently announced that it had signed up 33 employers for its private-exchange platforms for 2014. That includes companies like Petco and the energy firm Kinder Morgan, and others ranging in size from 100 to 30,000 employees.
Aon Hewitt, the nation's largest private health-care exchange, has signed up Walgreens, Sears Holding, and the Darden restaurant group and expects to have more than 600,000 employees covered under plans in its marketplace in 2014.
But unlike their public cousins, whose primary purpose is to offer affordable insurance to the 47 million Americans who are uninsured, private exchanges promise to bring the individual tailoring of the Digital Age to the place where the majority of Americans now get their health care – the workplace. For businesses, private exchanges are a way to improve efficiency and contain runaway costs in a competitive environment.
"Whenever you have competition on a retail basis, prices go down," says Ken Sperling, national health exchange strategy leader at Aon Hewitt, and one of the architects of the private health exchange concept. "And an exchange is a very efficient way to bring buyers and sellers together to drive competition."
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The basic idea of the exchange is to create an online mall, or a retail-like experience akin to Expedia or Amazon, and make insurance companies compete head-to-head for a new wave of individual customers. The state exchanges set up by "Obamacare" do the same thing.