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MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.-The employees of a computer software developer will use the company's own Internet technology in a pilot project to handle benefit information requests online.

Netscape Communications Corp. has joined with Sun Microsystems Inc., and Prudential HealthCare, the managed care division of Roseland, N.J.-based Prudential Insurance Co. of America, to create a new product designed to provide access to benefit data at work or from home. Netscape's 2,000 employees are testing the system. Both Netscape and Sun are based in Mountain View, Calif.

The system uses the World Wide Web to permit employee access to benefit records and informational material using an identification card and computer password. Information obtainable via the so-called "extranet" Web site includes lists of providers and their backgrounds; the status of pending claims and history of claims; online claim forms; request forms for insurance ID cards; and benefit summaries. Members also are able to change primary care physicians using their computer, transmit questions directly to Prudential and use mapping technology designed by Lucent Technologies Inc. to obtain detailed directions to a doctor's office from their home or another starting point.

The system will save Netscape's workers time and relieve the benefits staff of the need to answer so many telephone inquiries, said Steve Fridakis, Netscape product manager.

"From the employee's perspective, you don't have to call (the benefits office), you don't have to stay on the line and you can store the information," he said.

Benefit managers can also use the system to send personal messages to employees for receipt as they access the system.

Netscape workers who use the Web site can enter personal information for such programs as 401(k) retirement plans and vision plans without having to re-enter the data, said Myles Trachtenberg, vp and chief information officer of Prudential HealthCare.

"What's important from the employee's perspective is they don't face having to enroll five or six times for each provider," he said. "It's really looking at this from the eyes of the customer."

The pilot is using Netscape software and Sun is providing hardware and expertise in designing system architecture.

The pilot at Netscape rolled out May 7, and Prudential is exploring how it can market the technology to other Prudential plan sponsors, Mr. Trachtenberg said. No pricing has yet been developed, he said.

-By Robert Kazel


After a brief slowdown, employer sponsorship of long-term care insurance programs is rising again.

In 1995, 232 employer-sponsored LTC programs were introduced, bringing the total number of group LTC programs in force to 1,260, according to a new survey of LTC insurers by the Health Insurance Assn. of America, an industry group.

That is a significant increase from 1994, when just 60 new group LTC plans were launched. The 1995 increase trails the big jumps in group LTC plans that were racked up in the early 1990s, though. For example, in 1992, 298 group LTC plans were set up, while in 1993 a record 402 group plans were introduced.

The death of the Clinton administration's sweeping health care reform legislation in 1994 may explain why more employers are again establishing LTC plans, said Susan Coronel, the HIAA's long-term care director and a co-author of the survey.

Back in 1993 and 1994, employers were fearful that Congress, as part of health care reform legislation, would eliminate the role of private insurers and employers in the group LTC market. With the death of the Clinton plan in 1994, that fear and uncertainty was lifted, Ms. Coronel said.

Steady growth in the group long-term care market is likely to continue, Ms. Coronel pointed out, with the passage last year of legislation that gives tax-favored status to LTC policies. Under that law, employers can pay employees, up to certain limits, LTC premiums without employees being taxed on the premiums (BI, Aug. 5, 1996).

While the number of employer-sponsored LTC plans is growing, the individual LTC market dwarfs the group market. For example, of the 4.3 million LTC policies that had been sold through 1995, more than 80% of the policies had been issued through the individual market.

According to an HIAA survey of top LTC sellers:

The average annual premium for a 50-year-old buying a base plan providing a daily benefit of $80-a-day for nursing home care and $40-a-day for home health care was $310. A 65-year-old, though, would pay an annual premium of $817 for the same policy.

For the same policy-except that the benefit limits automatically increase 5% a year, the annual premium for a 50-year-old would be $651 and $1,481 for a 65-year-old.

For policies with a base $100-a-day nursing home benefit and a $50-a-day home health care benefit, the annual premium for a 50-year-old would be $378, while the premium for a 65-year-old would be $1,010.

Adding a feature that increases the $100 nursing home and $50 home health care benefit by 5% a year would boost the annual premium to $798 for the 50-year-old and $1,881 for the 65-year-old, according to the survey of top sellers.

Free single copies of "Long-Term Care Insurance in 1995," are available by contacting the Fulfillment Office, HIAA, 555 13th St. N.W., Suite 600 East, Washington, D.C. 20004-1109.