No doubt, 2014 is a pivotal year in the health care industry.With the individual mandate, market reforms and new insurancetaxes—and quite a lot of other provisions—now in effect, it's themost important year yet for the Patient Protection and AffordableCare Act.

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Brokers, carriers and other benefits experts are looking intonew ways of business, while holding on to tried-and-true methods.Think voluntary benefits, consumer-driven health plans and a newfocus on consulting.

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We asked some experts about their thoughts on the new year andwhat they're expecting for the industry.

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Here's what they said.

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Continued rise in consumer-driven health plans

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“Organizations that haven't already widely adoptedconsumer-directed health plans will begin to see the PatientProtection and Affordable Care Act and the imminent Cadillac tax asa driving force to add CDH plans to their health benefitportfolios. Organizations that have rolled-out CDH plans inprevious years will look to enhance their programs to improveperformance and achieve additional cost savings through greateremployee adoption and optimization.

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Brokers will increasingly be called upon to be the'quarterback,' integrating with or referring clients tobest-of-breed solution providers for CDH education, ACA complianceservices, etc… rather than trying to provide those servicesthemselves. Or, they will need to find ways to charge for theseservices—they will not be able to provide unlimited free consultingto clients in the new world of health care.”

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Duncan Van Dusen, co-founder and CEO of Tango Health,Austin

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Growth of private exchanges

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“In 2014, I anticipate we will continue to see the growth ofdefined benefit plans as employers examine their benefit costs anddetermine whether or not they will continue to subject themselvesto the medical cost curve.

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Similar to the move from pensions to 401(k)s, this is anopportunity for employers to better manage their bottom-line whileproviding employees with options for coverage. This will likelymean the further growth of private health exchanges to deliverthese plans. Consumer-directed health plans could potentiallybenefit from this trend as employees will be acting as trueconsumers in their plans selections.”

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Dennis Triplett, CEO of UMB Healthcare Services, Kansas City,Mo.

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The increasing value of brokers—and a new focus

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“Considering the overwhelming challenges of health care reform,the importance of agents and brokers will become increasingly morevalued by the American consumer of health care, legislators andregulators.

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Considering the cost of health care services varies by more than500 percent for many services within a market, our industry willadvocate for meaningful legislative and regulatory solutions thatwill produce health care cost transparency. The time is now for theconversation to recognize that health insurance is expensivebecause health care is expensive.”

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Tom Harte, NAHU President and president of Landmark Benefits,Boston

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Consolidation, wellness support

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“Voluntary benefits will continue on their path to beingcommodities. Enrollment companies will begin to consolidate inorder to provide more services such a platform/HRIS enrollments,24-hour call centers. New strategies will be born such assupporting employers who want to help their employees to exchanges.Another will be wellness support in the form of shorter wellnessquestionnaires that provide instant scores back to benefitcounselors to help the employee choose appropriate coverage. Thefirst and second quarters will see increased sales as demand pentup by health plan changes will see brokers doing more offanniversary sales to bolster their revenue.”

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Jim Christenson, field vice president at Allstate Benefits,Philadelphia

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Juggling more roles

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“I see brokers and consultants continuing to enter themarketplace with their versions of a private exchange offering asmore and more employers are considering changing to this type of adefined contribution benefits delivery model. With PPACA, brokerswill also be evolving to become more of a consultant-basedstrategic partner. They will continue to diversify their revenuestreams with viable voluntary products, such as auto and home, thatwill build client retention and differentiate themselves amongsttheir competitors in a historically dynamic marketplace.”

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Mark Parabicoli, assistant vice president & managingdirector, auto and home voluntary benefits, Liberty MutualInsurance, Boston

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Self-funding and supplemental coverage

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“The trend that I think we will see happen is many more smalleremployers moving to a self-funding/captive arrangement. Lots ofcompanies that have never explored this type of arrangement willbegin to.

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I believe that we are going to continue to see a growing amountof employers supplementing health plans with products such ascritical illness and accident. I also think the carriers withsuperior voluntary products will continue to grow while others justentering the market will fade away.”

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Brandon Scarborough, consultant at Power Group Companies,Kansas City, Mo.

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Mainstream Non-traditional voluntary benefits

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“While employers have become more familiar in recent years withtraditional voluntary benefits, this past year has seennon-traditional voluntary benefits offered more frequently in thebenefits package. A recent Eastbridge Consulting survey shows thatemployee purchase programs are among the most popular, with 13percent of employees owning the product through work. Next is legalplans with 8 percent; identity protection at 3 percent; and petinsurance at 1 percent. Eastbridge notes that ownership of theseproducts is low because many have only recently begun to beaccepted as employee benefits.

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Look for this to escalate in 2014. Non-traditional voluntarybenefits offer workers a way to obtain items and services throughconvenient payroll-deduction. Most of the non-traditional offeringsprovide workers with immediate tangible benefits which furtherincrease their appeal as they can be used year-round to obtainsomething that an employee needs, rather than many core benefitsthat employees only appreciate when they are sick or injured.Non-traditional voluntary benefits such as group legal plans,financial planning, and employee purchase programs will continue togrow in popularity as viable financial-support tools.”

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Elizabeth Halkos, chief revenue officer, Purchasing Power,Atlanta

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