An executive who once was vice chairman of New York Life Insurance Company is helping to start a new independent career agent distribution group.

Phillip Hildebrand is now the chief executive officer of Insphere Insurance Solutions Inc., Dallas, a company that will use the distribution system developed by HealthMarkets Inc., North Richland Hills, Texas, to accelerate the creation of a marketing organization that will sell life, disability, long term care, health, ancillary and retirement products to individuals with annual incomes ranging from $25,000 to $250,000.

The company also will sell group products to small businesses, organizers say.

The company has backing from a group of private-equity investors led by an affiliate of the Blackstone Group L.P., New York.

The company has started by announcing plans to market term life and universal life insurance products written by a U.S. unit of ING Groep N.V., Amsterdam.

Hildebrand has been and still is president of HealthMarkets, a company best known for selling individual and family health insurance products.

HealthMarkets subsidiaries have faced consumer complaints about their products, but that is mainly because the subsidiaries sell products designed to suit price-conscious customers, Hildebrand says.

“It’s very difficult to communicate that to the buyer,” Hildebrand says. “There’s a lot of confusion.

But the upside is that HealthMarkets now has a network of about 3,600 agents, in 90 offices in 40 states, who have experience with telling middle-market consumers about product limitations, Hildebrand says.

“This is a space that has been basically deserted,” Hildebrand says.

Many insurers have given up on the expensive process of recruiting and training new career agents in recent years, hoping that the Internet and banks would move in to serve the middle market, Hildebrand says.

But, in the real world, “you have to have distribution,” Hildebrand says. “Life insurance must be sold. You can’t get that from the Internet.”

In addition to interviewing and contracting with the people and offices in the HealthMarkets distribution system, Insphere will be talking to others, Hildebrand says.

Insphere will offer a technology system that will make it easy for agents to sell products from several different carriers and manage the client relationships, Hildebrand says.

Insphere also will supply training, leads, compliance supervision, and other forms of support, Hildebrand says.