Practice Economics

Feds delay online enrollment in small business exchange for 1 year


 

Small employers seeking health insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s small business marketplace will have to wait another year to enroll online.

Officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced on Nov. 27 that online enrollment would be delayed until November 2014, though enrollment will continue through paper applications. Employers will also be able to sign up for insurance through insurance brokers or agents, and directly through health plans.

The administration delayed the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) Marketplace to prioritize fixes to healthcare.gov, the tech-plagued federal marketplace used by individuals purchasing insurance, according to Julie Bataille, director of CMS’ Office of Communications.

The SHOP Marketplace allows small businesses with 50 or fewer full-time-equivalent employees to choose health plan options. For 2014, employers will only be able to select one plan.

Businesses with 50 or fewer employees are not required to offer insurance under the Affordable Care Act, though their employees must have coverage in place by March 31, 2014, in order to avoid a penalty under the health law.

In the meantime, federal health officials said they are still "on track" to meet their self-imposed deadline of Nov. 30 for getting healthcare.gov working well for the vast majority of users. By the end of November, healthcare.gov will be able to handle about 50,000 users at one time and more than 800,000 over the course of a day. But officials also stressed that Nov. 30 does not represent a relaunch of the website.

"It is not a magical date," Ms. Bataille said.

mschneider@frontlinemedcom.com

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