Five critical success factors for participation in exchange markets

Beginning in October 2013, open enrollment will commence for individual and small group health insurance plans being sold on public exchanges, new marketplaces created by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). Because there are still many unknowns regarding how the new market will function, plans must be prepared to work aggressively to position their strategies and resources for initial launch and ongoing operations. The following five tactics are recommended for organizations that plan to offer qualified health plans (QHPs) on public exchanges.

1. Strategy alignment. As with any new line of business, an important first step is to ensure that the strategy of the exchange program serves that of the organization as a whole. For example, will the product compete primarily on price, quality, or access to best enhance the company’s overall marketing and network strategies? The leadership team must be clear about the reasons for entering the exchange and the potential effects it will have on the company’s marketing, finances, and operational performance.

2. Having a champion. Successful QHP issuers will formally identify a senior program lead within their organizations to advocate for exchange participation among internal and external stakeholders. From operational planning through public positioning, this person will clearly communicate the program’s goals and progress, how exchange participation contributes to the overall strategy and mission of the organization, as well as the needs of the stakeholders it serves.

3. Cross-functional team engagement. Adding exchange business to a company’s program portfolio will require input and implementation efforts from employees across the organization. For instance:

• IT resources must be invested to establish infrastructure for transferring and reconciling enrollment data between the exchange and the health plan
• Member services must be staffed and trained to serve a newly insured population likely to have questions about the unfamiliar products, cost sharing, and premium subsidies
• Sales and marketing, product development, medical management, network management, finance, accounting, compliance, and human resources will all be affected as well
Successful exchange participants will devote resources to performing operational gap assessments and develop gap closure strategies, as well as appoint a multidisciplinary core management team to coordinate activities across functional areas.

4. Defining success. A key responsibility of the core management team is to create clearly defined performance metrics for the exchange program. These goals must be specific yet flexible to adapt to continuously evolving regulatory requirements and market factors that will remain uncertain until exchanges reach a mature operational status. For instance, financial and enrollment projections may need to adjust quickly if more small employers than previously predicted decide to seek coverage through the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) market rather than through traditional channels.

5. Public policy involvement. At both the state and federal levels, policy surrounding exchanges is constantly being created and refined. While the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) publishes guidance that affects exchanges and issuers nationwide, many details regarding how the exchanges will function, how plans can be designed and marketed, and more are defined at the state level. For example, in Maine, exchange navigators are required to be licensed brokers, while California is considering allowing nonprofits, trade organizations, and schools to help fill the navigator role. The government relations department can help shape emerging policy decisions and stay close to the discussions at all levels so that the rest of the organization can respond quickly to new developments.