Earlier this year I mentioned 2006 will be the year for online small group insurance. So far, it has been, with more projects on the horizon.

IdeaStar Inc. just launched its first interactive Web site for small group major medical. The site allows a small group representative to enter the group profile and employee census information and receive a preliminary quote from the carrier. The group can then apply for that quote with an automated process. The application process includes functionality which allows employees to enter their protected health information into a private area of the Web site not visible to the employer. The application information is then transmitted to the carrier for a “manually automated” rating process. The final rates are then communicated back to the group for acceptance.

So this is a first step towards consumer-driven health insurance in the small group major medical insurance market. It seems to be the first of its kind in the nation. And it all ties into the Association Health Plan legislation that is currently on the drawing boards.

Notice there was no mention of an agent or a broker in the process. While there is provision for agents and brokers in the process, they are not required. In the short term, this makes it feasible for the small group to get a quote and apply without an agent in a time- and cost-effective manner. In the long run — and I could be way out in left field on this — I see this functionality applying to larger groups and continue to grow in the small group market.

It will be interesting to see how things shake out. I’m currently in discussion on a small group dental plan Web site which would launch in the final quarter of 2006. We’ll see what happens with that as well.