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REDMOND, Wash.-Microsoft Corp. employees will be the first, but not necessarily the last, to benefit from a new online insurance purchasing program for employees developed by Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.

Under the "Personal Insurance Network," scheduled to begin operating Feb. 1, Microsoft employees will be able to select personal lines coverages like auto and homeowners policies via the company's computer network, said Scott Lange, director-risk management at the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant.

The New York-based insurer's interactive program will allow users to tailor coverages to their needs and view a spreadsheet that displays their selections. Other features automatically call up automobile information, for example, upon entering the model name, he said.

Mr. Lange said the idea for an online insurance purchasing system at Microsoft was born about two years ago when he began looking for an insurer to offer personal lines coverages to company employees.

After choosing MetLife unit Metropolitan Property & Casualty Insurance Co., Microsoft asked the insurer to deliver products online because "that's our culture here," Mr. Lange said.

A group of more than a dozen specialists at the insurer worked on the idea and came up with the program, said John Shinn, vp-group property and casualty at MetLife in Bridgewater, N.J.

"Metropolitan is extremely excited about this," according to Mr. Shin.

The insurer plans to expand the online program to other employers later this year and eventually make other products like life insurance available, he added.

"Less people are using their phone and more people are using their PCs. I think this is one of the ways insurance will be sold in the future," Mr. Shinn said.

The insurer expects to market the online program beginning in 1997, he said.

Metropolitan has "pretty much proven that it can be done. They've really brought the underwriting process right to the desktop, to the consumer," Mr. Lange said of the program.

In a preliminary tryout recently, Microsoft employees "really liked it," Mr. Lange said. "If it passes muster at Microsoft, it's pretty slick."

Regis Coccia

SANTA MONICA, Calif.-Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. will soon extend eligibility for health care, dental and vision benefits to live-in, same-sex partners of employees.

Following the lead of several other entertainment companies, MGM will extend coverage to all same-sex domestic partners as of Feb. 1. The movie and television production and distribution company, which has 800 full-time employees, is making the move to stay competitive in the industry, a spokeswoman said.

The benefits will only cover homosexual couples and not include live-in heterosexual couples because they "have the option to marry, which isn't available to homosexual couples," the spokeswoman said.

Any children of the partners who would be considered dependents would also be eligible for health benefits.

To be eligible, employees and their same-sex partners are required to provide evidence, including an affidavit, of a "committed relationship."

For health benefits, MGM employees can select from an indemnity plan underwritten by Prudential Insurance Co. of America or an HMO from PacifiCare Health Systems.

The idea for the domestic partner coverage originated in employee focus groups, said the spokeswoman.

Bethany Pendleton