BIA launches private health, benefits exchange

Goal is ‘more options’ for employees, employers

The Business and Industry Association of NH is offering a sort of virtual benefits agency that is not meant to replace brokers but enhance them.

The website would allow employees to pick from a suite of health plans from a single insurer, chosen by the employer with or without a broker, as well as a variety of ancillary benefits, including dental, disability insurance and theft insurance. Most of the benefits will be offered with no minimum participation requirements, which is unusual.

The benefits package will be consolidated into one bill for the employer as well as a breakdown on how much should be deducted from an employee’s paycheck – which should save small business the administrative overhead, and headaches.

“The goal of our exchange is to help ease the burden of employee health benefits administration and give employees more options for supplemental products,” said BIA president Jim Roche.

The BIA will be working with CieloStar, a national payments and benefits technology company based in Minneapolis. Thus far, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in New Hampshire and Northeast Delta Dental have signed up to participate on the BIA exchange, and Minuteman Health is expected to join in the next few weeks.

Although the BIA calls its offering a “private healthcare exchange” it is not to be confused with the public individual exchange or the SHOP exchange for groups offered through the Affordable Care Act.

Employees will not be able to choose a health insurance company, just choose from among the plans offered by the single insurer that the employer agreed to. And it will be up to the employer to choose how many of the 24 plans offered by Anthem it will offer their employees.

Although an employer can do this without a broker, the site has a broker option right on its home page.

“It’s meant to be broker-friendly,” said Roche. In many cases, it would be the broker who would go onto the site on behalf of the employer.”

Roche said the BIA has held meetings with brokers in Concord, Portsmouth and Manchester – about 50 in all – but has yet to contact the NH Association of Insurance Agents, which declined to comment on the new initiative.

“We are not displacing any brokers,” said Paul Walther, chief marketer for CieloStar. “They can bring their own clients – we even set up a dashboard for them. It’s not our intention to be the broker of record. We really want to work with them.”

Both Roche and Walther said that they will be reaching out to more brokers in the coming weeks.

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