Walgreen’s announcement that it will send its workers to a private health insurance exchange to buy their own plans is a sign of the times that isn’t going away.

And that may be good news for consumers, though it’s too soon to tell, experts say.

These private exchanges, which have only existed for about a year, are run by outside benefits companies and typically offer more insurance choices than those offered by employers. Employers contribute a set amount and employees choose which plan best suits their needs.

The Walgreen exchange, announced Wednesday with benefits company Aon Hewitt, is similar to the state exchanges required under the Affordable Care Act. In those exchanges or marketplaces, uninsured Americans will buy health insurance plans on their own that are often subsidized by the federal government. In this case, Walgreen provides the financial assistance.

In five years, more than a quarter of the estimated 170 million people now covered by insurance through their employers will be getting their benefits this way, according to research from consulting firm Accenture. At that time, enrollment in these private exchanges is expected to top that of the new state exchanges. That’s despite the fact most Americans are unaware of private insurance exchanges, Accenture says.

Private health insurance exchanges growing fast.