As they explore viable methods to structure their Web-based employee benefits programs, insurance carriers have identified proprietary programs, outsourcing the process and even launching Web sites spun off from the corporate name, such as eWausau.com.Creating an independent Internet company designed to market, distribute and administrate employee benefits products is yet another piece in the overall equation. This option came under scrutiny in June when Hewitt Associates, a 60-year-old employee benefits management consulting firm based in Lincolnshire, Ill., launched a Web-based company called Sageo.

Sageo is designed to assist corporations and their employees select health insurance and other benefit products chosen from a wide variety of carrier plans. Scheduled to launch in July, Sageo has recruited six unidentified Fortune 500 companies and 600 U.S.-based health networks to pilot the program, linking their group plans through Sageo.

By the end of this year, Sageo is expected to serve between 400,000 to 500,000 employees, their dependents and retirees during open enrollment periods, the company predicts. To support these users, Sageo-with 60 full-time employees-has hired another 200 consultants and professionals to provide 24-hour a day, seven-day-a-week service via a customer care center and interactive voice response system.

Investing 18 months to build the company, the costs of which were not disclosed, Sageo is designed to "create an efficient market for health networks by delivering them volume, and delivering employers operating efficiencies," Thomas Beauregard, chief strategist for Sageo, declares. "Through Sageo, we can deliver to an employer additional savings of 30% to 40% above what they would derive through a customized outsourcing model."

Pinpointing needs

While slashing overhead costs for employers is key, Sageo is also designed for the employee to pinpoint their specific benefit needs. Whether it is first-time enrollment or re-electing coverage terms, Sageo give employees modeling tools to perform health appraisals, Beauregard says

Employees can access Sageo through a local intranet, linking them to a Web site that's hosted by Sageo. Most consumers can complete enrollment in about 10 minutes, but for those who need to perform a health risk appraisal, the process takes longer.

Within the umbrella program, Sageo provides an educational service that outlines an employee's entitlements and other group benefit particulars. "Employees often don't know what they have to do in order to see a specialist, and the steps they have to take to obtain a referral," says Kelly Zitlow, a spokeswoman for Sageo.

Program flexibility is another bugaboo of employees regarding group benefit provisions. Open enrollment is expanded under Sageo in which an employee that experiences a qualifying event in his or her life-such as a wedding, birth of a child or the buying of a new home-are supported under the program.

Sageo has big plans for the future. How lofty? By 2002, every health plan in the U.S. will be aligned with Sageo, Beauregard predicts.

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