Companies that turned to a new private exchange concept of giving their workers money to buy health benefits via online marketplaces continue to see lower health care costs than trends for most other employers, saving “more than $750 per worker” for 2015, according to benefits consultancy Aon Hewitt (AON).

Across companies on its private exchange, Aon Hewitt said “rates for coverage increased an average of 5.3 percent” in 2015. That was lower than industry averages projected for large self-insured employers of between 6 and 8 percent for 2015.

The lower trend in 2015 on the exchange is significant because the rate increase in the exchanges also included various costs associated with the Affordable Care Act, benefits analysts say. It’s the third year of Aon Hewitt’s exchange.

“After three years in operation, we continue to see evidence that our fully insured, multi-carrier model is fostering competition at the consumer level and encouraging individuals to become smarter about their health care choices,” Ken Sperling, Aon Hewitt’s national health exchange strategy leader, said in a statement accompanying its report.

Aon Hewitt said all 18 of the companies that participated in its exchange in 2014 are returning for 2015 with more than 600,000 employees and dependents enrolling in coverage via the exchange.

Across the country, an estimated 3 million Americans are getting insurance from their employers via exchanges, which is triple the number of active employees that were buying from private exchanges a year ago, according to Accenture, which projects 40 million Americans will be buying on private exchanges in 2018.

It works like this: Employees get a credit or subsidy, and are sent to buy a plan on a private market place akin to or Orbitz in their respective industries.

Sperling said Aon Hewitt’s exchange is “designed to create a more effective and efficient health care ecosystem by aligning employers, employees, providers and insurance companies.”

More and more benefits firms like Aon Hewitt rival, Mercer, and insurance companies like Aetna (AET), Cigna (CI), Humana (HUM) UnitedHealth Group (UNH) are developing their own private exchanges.

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Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary