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eHealth maintains exchange dreams

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eHealth Inc. hasn’t given up hope that the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act exchange system will help the company boost sales.

The parent of the Web-based health insurance supermarket — one of the major popularizers of the idea that the U.S. should have a “Travelocity for health insurance” — is still trying to persuade state and federal PPACA exchange builders to let it help drive business to their programs.

The company already has negotiated a major alliance with a private exchange — a private, Web-based, multi-carrier alternative to the PPACA exchanges.

eHealth executives talked about the company’s exchange strategy last week during a conference call with analysts.

EHealth held the call to review second-quarter earnings. The company reported $1.1 million in net income for the quarter on $40 million in revenue, compared with $2.3 million in net income on $36 million in revenue for the second quarter of 2012.

Gary Lauer, eHealth’s chairman, said during the call that the company has not yet signed any deals with either the state-run exchanges in states like California or the federally run exchanges in states like Mississippi.

But “we’re in deep in the negotiation process with the federal government right now,” Lauer said. “The same with many states. As soon as we have news, we’ll let you know. We need some things to happen soon, because the clock is ticking.”

The PPACA calls for states and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to set up the PPACA exchanges by Jan. 1.

The builders of the exchanges all seem to be working around the clock to get them going, Lauer said.

eHealth believes it can help the exchanges, because it would sell the same products at the same prices without charging the exchanges anything, Lauer said.

eHealth in June formed a partnership with Aon Corp. (NYSE:AON), the builder of a private exchange that will be serving employers with about 100,000 health plan enrollees.

eHealth will provide enrollment platforms and services for the employers that use the Aon private exchange, Lauer said.

For large and midsize employers, offering a private exchange might be a good way to help part-time employees, contractors and other associates who are not eligible for group health benefits get individual health insurance, Lauer said.

Lauer also talked about the effects of the looming PPACA market changes on current health insurance sales.

Some have predicted that individuals and small businesses would stop buying health coverage while waiting for the 2014 rules to take effect.

At eHealth, application volume was 10 percent higher than comparable levels in 2012 in the first quarter and 7 percent higher than year-earlier levels in the second quarter, Lauer said.

eHealth executives are feeling optimistic about the second half of the year, Lauer added.

At another point, Lauer talked about 2014 health insurance premium trends. “We’re not seeing anything that looks alarming,” he said. “But we’re watching it very carefully.”

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