When Towers Watson acquired Extend Health last year, there were many unknowns in the health care world: the Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act was still ahead of us, as were the fall elections of 2012. Were we concerned about uncertainty for our companies and those we work with? Of course – but the combination of Extend Health, the nation’s leading Medicare exchange, and Towers Watson, a global leader in professional services, gave us the vision to chart a path into an uncertain future.

OneExchange is the culmination of that vision. It begins a new chapter in our company’s history at the same time that our nation takes a huge turn in its own health care history. Forged in the early winds of the pending reform storm, OneExchange is a single destination that offers many solutions.

As they were a year ago, many employers are looking at ACA’s potential impact on their health care benefits and asking: “What’s the right path?

In answer to this question, I can say two things:

  1. It’s complicated. You knew that – But did you know that’s a good thing? There are more options now than you, your employees and your retirees have ever had in the past. Some will work better for certain populations than others, but there’s a way to figure that out.
  2. You don’t have to do this all at once. You don’t have to pull the trigger on a massive set of health benefit changes right now. You can get there one step at a time.

With OneExchange, Towers Watson is using the Extend Health platform to deliver an exchange model that transcends a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s agile in the variation in delivers and nimble in its response to the evolving health care marketplace.

ACA changes things on many levels for employers. The parameters are neither simple nor clear, and the answer will not only be different for each company, it could be different within each company.

Figuring out the impact and how to respond strategically to it means taking into account many factors: how many employees, the hours they work, how much they earn, what benefits they get now, what competitors offer and more.

To increase the difficulty of solving this equation, key market-defining elements like final regs on essential health benefits and the costs of new health plans being designed for 2014 – all mission-critical to driving choice and value for employees on any exchange – are yet to be announced.

Not until these unknowns fill in over the course of 2013 will the value of an exchange become fully known.

Before making health benefits changes, employers should be able to look at scenarios modeled on known conditions. They need knowledgeable advice and insight that lets them make the right decisions at the right time.

That’s why OneExchange’s solutions will be triggered as these market-defining elements come into play. Not before. This will enable employers to leverage the seismic shift that’s just around the corner.

OneExchange gives employers a command central for analyzing and strategizing their health care benefits decisions now – and the advice and solutions they need to chart their course to tomorrow.

Rather than being a year of big, sudden change, we believe that 2013 will be the year that large employers take a good look but not a big leap.

At stake for employers is the trust of their workforce – the ability to recruit and retain employees – as well as sheer operational productivity and their reputation in the eyes of the public – all factors with bottom line impacts.

Fast forward a few years and corporate officers looking back on these next few years will want to be able to say, “We weathered the changes, came out whole and are in a better place. As important – so are our people.” By charting a course via OneExchange, we believe leaders of major employers today will also be able to say, “We did the right thing.”

For regular commentary on developments and trends in health care, technology and insurance, follow @brycewatch and @ExtendHealth on Twitter and check out www.extendhealth.com.