On the Call: Aetna Chairman, CEO Mark Bertolini

Some employers are considering a big switch in how their workers receive health insurance benefits. Instead of picking an insurance plan or two to offer the workforce, companies are giving employees a credit that helps them buy insurance on a private exchange.

These online exchanges work like more complex versions of travel websites that help people book flights. They allow workers to pick their coverage from several different choices. These private sites also are similar to the public online exchanges that will enable people to buy insurance starting late next year as part of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.

A couple large employers, Sears Holding Corp. and Darden Restaurants Inc., are switching to this approach, and benefits experts say many others are considering it.

On Thursday, Credit Suisse analyst Ralph Giacobbe asked Aetna officials during a conference call to discuss third-quarter earnings what they thought of it. Chairman and CEO Mark Bertolini responded.

Earlier in the day, Aetna said it earned $499.2 million, or $1.47 per share, in the quarter on $8.92 billion in revenue.

QUESTION: What's your opinion on the interest in this approach by more employers?

RESPONSE: "We will definitely participate in private exchanges, Ralph. We do see some employers that are interested in it. It's not a groundswell, but we think it's something that will emerge over time. It is our intention to be involved in that as well as the public exchanges."