The chairman and founder of Sunnyvale, Calif.-based eHealthInsurance.com, which sells individual, family and small-group online health insurance through multiple carriers, recently encouraged the U.S. Congress to begin using the power of the Internet as a mechanism to provide individuals access to affordable health insurance. Vip Patel, the chairman and founder of eHealthInsurance.com, told 40 Congressional health care policy-makers and staffers at a briefing hosted by House majority leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) that access to affordable health care has become a vexing problem. As a result, Patel encouraged Congress to begin working with private-sector companies, including eHealthInsurance, to cut the percentage of uninsured Americans in half by 2010. The current percentage of uninsured people is 20%.Allstate Expands Direct Program

One year after Northbrook, Ill.-based Allstate Corp. rolled out its multi-access strategy, the carrier has expanded the program to four additional states-Alabama, Maryland, Virginia and Georgia. Allstate's multi-access strategy enables customers to reach the company via a phone call to one of its call centers, by interacting with one of its 13,000 independent agents or by logging onto the Internet at www.allstate.com. The other states that have adopted the program include Arizona, Illinois, Colorado, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio and Oregon.

QQLink.com Completes Financing

QQLink.com Inc., an insurance e-commerce subsidiary of Ceres Group Inc. has completed the closing of a first-round $2.7 million private financing offer, and has established its headquarters in Chicago. Cleveland-based Ceres Group holds a 94% stake in QQLink.com, which is a Web-based business-to-business and business-to-consumer agency exchange provider. Consumers may apply for and purchase insurance online either at a participating agent's Web site, or on the QQLink.com master Web site, www.qqlink.com.

St. Paul Plans Major Tech Initiative

In an effort to address new market opportunities created by the Internet and wireless communications, The St. Paul Cos., St. Paul Minn., plans an aggressive expansion of its technology business unit. The company will bring in 33 staff members throughout the United States-most possessing an expertise in e-commerce security and intellectual property law. The staff additions will boost The St. Paul's technology business unit from 187 employees to 220. In a separate but related initiative, The St. Paul, beginning January 1, will offer two new technology products-Media Liability and Networker. Media liability is an integrated personal injury, advertising injury and media injury liability insuring agreement. Networker provides coverage for certain types of computer fraud, denial of service, telecommunications theft, ransom for computer-related threats, post-loss mitigation expenses and public relations activity. In addition, a specialty underwriting unit will be formed within St. Paul's technology business unit to develop additionQal new e-commerce products to address new exposures presented by the Internet.

The Hartford Expands eBillPro

The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. has expanded its Internet-based electronic bill processing and payment system for workers' compensation to three more states-Missouri, Texas and Wisconsin. The Hartford, based in Hartford, Conn., has been offering eBillPro in California since April and plans to expand to additional providers and jurisdictions. The program is designed to expedite medical provider payments and decrease costs associated with data entry, duplicate billing and delays due to missing or incomplete billing information.

Small-Business Owners Shop At Night

More than 50% of small-business owners shop for business insurance after traditional business hours, according to Chicago-based online e-agency InsuranceNoodle.com, which has monitored customer buyer patterns since launching in July. The company's research found that 52% of all customer interactions occur after traditional business hours; 50% of all customer interactions are inbound phone calls; and 43% of all interactions are via live chat and e-mail.

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