Meet Exchange Innovator, John Barkett

January 23, 2015


For highlights of my perspectives, articles I’ve contributed to and other forums where I’ve shared my thoughts, See LinkedIn and Twitter.

This post is part of our Exchange Innovator Series featuring leading private exchange, health care reform and Medicare experts from Towers Watson.

I’m John Barkett, director of health policy affairs for Exchange Solutions, Towers Watson’s private exchange business segment.

It’s my mission to stay on top of the ever-changing regulatory landscape of today’s health insurance market. My focus is on how health care reform and changes in Medicare impact employers’ needs and options when it comes to private exchanges. As our development teams engineer new private exchange tools and services, I advise them on how to extend and improve the exchange experience for workforces, active and retired. My goal is to make the most of new technologies and new consumerism sensibilities – like being able to see and quantify differences between health plans and how they would work for the individual consumers considering them – to shop like you would for any other major consumer purchase.

My health insurance roots

John Barkett, Musician

In addition to his Medicare expertise, John Barkett is a musician and irrepressible crooner

When I first got into health insurance, I had the idea that if people could truly shop for health coverage, like they did for other important life purchases, they could make better health coverage choices for themselves and have real influence back on the industry.

It sounds simple, but shopping for insurance has been mind-bogglingly hard to do for generations of Americans. In years past, the marketplace really wasn’t set up with individual consumers in mind.

Employers play a huge role in providing Americans with health coverage, and that has meant employers acting on behalf of employees and retirees – with the mantle of choice, accessibility and cost on employers – not the people who ultimately would use the coverage.

The growth of private exchanges and online public marketplaces has meant that Americans are finally getting consumer choice and leverage in their health insurance options – and that’s makes this a very exciting time to be in this field.

I studied economics back when the other social sciences – psychology, sociology, political science – were starting to apply economic models to their fields.  I remember reading a psychology paper called “the Tyranny of Choice,” which described how people do not make rational decisions when faced with overwhelming choice.  I think about his every time we extol the benefits of competition in a health insurance marketplace. My take-away:

– Consumers can’t benefit from competition if we don’t provide tools to simplify their options. –

And that’s what we do as a private exchange – provide people with the tools and services they need to really have influence as consumers – over their own health insurance decisions and as purchasers in the market.

Eventually I staffed the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee when Congress was writing the Affordable Care Act. The policy debate centered on how to create a competitive health insurance marketplace. It turns out the attributes of such a marketplace – affordable plans, a simple shopping experience and market rules that protect consumers as well as insurers – are necessary for any type of exchange – public or private – to attract consumers.

Where I see health insurance going

John Barkett

John at the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School in Thailand

In the years to come – and we are well on the way there – I see exchanges driving insurers to become more consumer-friendly.

Right now insurers operate as B2B companies. In an exchange environment, they must operate as B2C companies. As exchange adoption grows, insurers will compete over how they treat their customer, not just their customer’s employer. My belief is this will lead to some new thinking on the old frustrations that plague our health care system.

I also see the other groups that have been involved in health insurance purchasing, such as employers, becoming more consumer-oriented themselves – for example making more health consumerism tools available to employees and retirees.

A key consideration for this consumerism sea-change is the question: If we all got to choose our own health insurance plan, would we all pick the same one?

The answer is “Of course not!” Yet most people with traditional employer-sponsored insurance only have one or two options for coverage.

In an exchange or marketplace setting, the exchange can innovate by tailoring insurance products to individual consumer preference and consumers can enroll in products that are a better fit for their needs, budgets and lifestyles.

Overtime, this should lead to consumers and employer sponsors getting much better value for their health care dollars.

To reach me for comment on an article or a presentation, contact Melanie Meharchand, Director of PR and Social Media for Exchange Solutions, Willis Towers Watson.

One Response to “Meet Exchange Innovator, John Barkett”

  1. […] leading private exchange, health care reform and Medicare experts from Willis Towers Watson. See John Barkett and Sherri […]

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