How do you explain a process to someone who has never experienced it before? Where do you start? “Well,” you might say, “they start at the beginning.” That’s true, but there’s a lot missing from that explanation, and that’s exactly how it feels when companies talk about private health insurance exchanges. “Well,” I’ve heard people say, “people log in and then they get health insurance.” That’s true enough, but there’s so much more than that. The question of how exchanges work is much bigger than what bells and whistles are included. As technologists wade into the murky conversation around private exchanges, several companies have created “checklists” to help you determine whether or not you’ve got one. Each purporting to hold themselves out as experts, their answers are largely based on how they framed the problem initially. And I think many of them got the problem wrong. An exchange is not a product, rather it is an exchange for a digital process. At FormFire, we think that a digital process should help brokers and small-group employers perform all of these functions: Quote. Sell. Enroll. Does your exchange help you get quotes? Considering that gathering rates is one of the few functions that the exchange actually does, it is surprising how many private exchange producers presume that the rates just magically appear. When shopping for rates, should an exchange help brokers gather the necessary group information to generate confirmed proposals? What if those proposals require an analysis of group risk - for example, large group fully-insured or the ever-expanding self-funded marketplace? We believe that the initial efforts of gathering pricing is not out-of-bounds when one looks to build the best digital process. For over ten years, FormFire’s digital pipeline has helped brokers gather everything up front, including medical history, so that a broader range of products can be reviewed and compared. What about selling stuff? That’s what an exchange is really all about, right? Here’s the problem - we have no idea what you’re going to want to sell next year, but neither do you. Maybe you’ll be selling defined contribution plans, maybe you won’t. Here’s what we do know: When you’ve decided what you’re going to sell to your small groups, you want to sell it immediately! You don’t want to wait for weeks while your products are “hard-wired” into a machine. You want it to be ready to roll tomorrow. The time between getting the renewal and making the sale is the most vulnerable time for brokers and agents. That time needs to be as short as possible. We understand that time is of the essence in a broker’s sales process, which is why we’ve built our on-line “shelves” with two main outcomes in mind: easy set-up and flexibility. Brokers using FormFire’s marketplace technology are not limited to only selling defined contribution plans. Groups comfortable with their current contribution strategy will not be forced to change. Beyond that, FormFire’s marketplace technology can support a wide variety of plan designs (fully-insured, self-funded, etc.), any of which could be built into the system in 24 to 48 hours. FormFire’s technology does support defined contribution arrangements, as well as the inclusion of many customized, ancillary lines to compliment the medical. Let’s be honest - at the end of the day, as others have suggested, it’s all about the money, right? We couldn’t agree more. In fact, groups have understood this for years, which is why they choose to work with independent agents who have access to products from several insurance carriers. We believe there is no better way to save money than through the freedom to access a wide range of the best insurance products. In this regard, FormFire truly is the broker’s best friend. At the time of enrollment, FormFire supports both electronic data interchange (EDI) and paper based processes. That means that FormFire-enabled brokers and employers enjoy the freedom to shop the market for the best rates and then enroll in coverage however the carrier prefers. If the carrier has set-up an EDI feed for small-group business, we’ll work to support it. For everyone else, we’ll digitally generate the necessary paperwork to help brokers and employers jump effortlessly through all of the enrollment hoops. FormFire has invested more than a decade in helping brokers digitize their small-group processes, beginning to end. Our unique perspective has taught us that a private marketplace is only as strong as the online benefits process to which it is connected. Several events have to occur before a group can choose their products, and several things have to happen afterwards (with some events occurring throughout the year). The broker of the future should not look simply to sell online - they should look to do business online. Selling is the fun part, but FormFire understands that the story starts long before the sale, and that even after the sale, there is still more work to be done.