Online SHOP enrollment delayed by one year
By: Jason Millman
November 27, 2013 12:40 PM EST
The Obama administration today announced a year-long delay of online enrollment for small businesses looking to purchase health coverage through federal-run exchanges, another setback for HealthCare.gov.
The delay, first reported by POLITICO, comes just weeks after Obama administration officials said the online enrollment for small businesses would be ready by the end of November. The announcement also comes just three days before the White House promises HealthCare.gov will provide a smoother enrollment experience for most users trying to purchase individual and family coverage. Fixing the problems with the individual market has been the White House priority.
Small businesses, which have been able to apply for exchange coverage by paper application since Oct. 1, will have alternative sign-up methods, HHS announced Wednesday. Those looking to enroll through small business exchanges, known as SHOP, can sign up through an agent or broker or directly through an insurer.
“We’ve concluded that we can best serve small employers by continuing this offline process while we concentrate on both creating a smoothly functioning online experience in the SHOP Marketplace, and adding key new features, including an employee choice option and premium aggregation services, by November 2014,” according to an HHS notice issued a day before the long Thanksgiving weekend. Those features give workers more choice of health plans, rather than having the business owner choose it.
The administration originally delayed online enrollment in the federal-run small business exchanges just days before the failed Oct. 1 launch of HealthCare.gov. At the time, HHS said online enrollment would be available “sometime in November.” Weeks ago, administration officials said online enrollment would be ready by the end of this November.
The delay applies only to the federal-run SHOP exchanges in almost three dozen states. With a few exceptions, SHOPs in states running their own exchanges have had a smoother rollout.
Small Business Majority, a group that supports the health care law, called today’s announcement “disappointing,” but said the exchanges still offer a competitive marketplace to shop for coverage.
“It’s disappointing that the online portion of the federal small business marketplace through Healthcare.gov will be delayed and it’s important it get up and running as soon as possible,” Small Business Majority CEO John Arensmeyer said in a statement. “However, it doesn’t change the fact that the marketplace can offer the most competitive combination of price and quality for small businesses purchasing health insurance,” he said.