Another Obamacare Marketplace Delayed

WASHINGTON - AUGUST 16: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services building is shown August 16, 2006 in Washington, DC. The HHS Building, also known as the Hubert H. Humphrey Building, is located at the foot of Capitol Hill and is named for Humphrey, who served as a U.S. senator from Minnesota and Vice President of the United States. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
National Journal
Sophie Novack
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Sophie Novack
Nov. 27, 2013, 9:56 a.m.

Just as it seemed all was quiet on the pre-hol­i­day health care news front, the ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced an­oth­er big Obama­care delay ahead of the Thanks­giv­ing break.

The on­line in­sur­ance ex­change for small busi­nesses will be delayed a year, to Novem­ber 2014. The Small Busi­ness Health Op­tions Pro­gram, or SHOP, al­lows em­ploy­ers to pur­chase in­sur­ance for their em­ploy­ees through the fed­er­al ex­change. Of­fi­cials ori­gin­ally delayed the on­line SHOP mar­ket­place in Septem­ber, but said it would be up and run­ning “some­time in Novem­ber.” The an­nounce­ment Wed­nes­day pushes it back an­oth­er year.

“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,” said a Health and Hu­man Ser­vices De­part­ment no­tice.

Small busi­nesses have been able to en­roll us­ing pa­per ap­plic­a­tions since the launch of the Obama­care in­sur­ance ex­changes on Oct. 1. They will still be able to en­roll through means oth­er than through the web­site, and HHS is now en­cour­aging en­roll­ment for 2014 through agents, brokers, or in­surers of­fer­ing cer­ti­fied SHOP plans.

“This pro­cess, called ‘dir­ect en­roll­ment,’ is sim­il­ar to how most small em­ploy­ers get in­sur­ance today,” HHS ex­plained in a blog post Wed­nes­day. “You don’t need to ap­ply for SHOP eli­gib­il­ity be­fore en­rolling, or to use Health­Care.gov, un­less you’d like to see in­form­a­tion on your plan op­tions, in­clud­ing which in­sur­ance com­pan­ies of­fer SHOP Qual­i­fied Health Plans in your area.”

Busi­nesses still have an in­cent­ive to en­roll in cov­er­age through the SHOP ex­change be­cause it al­lows them to com­pare plans, and provides many with ex­pan­ded tax cred­its. Those cred­its are only avail­able for cov­er­age pur­chased through SHOP.

“The agent, broker, or in­surer will en­roll your em­ploy­ees, and the SHOP Mar­ket­place will re­view your ap­plic­a­tion and can de­term­ine later wheth­er your busi­ness and em­ploy­ees are eli­gible for SHOP cov­er­age,” HHS said. “The main reas­on for you to get the SHOP eli­gib­il­ity de­term­in­a­tion in 2014, is to al­low you to claim the ex­pan­ded the Small Busi­ness Health Care Tax Cred­it at the end of your tax year — as long as you also meet all the oth­er re­quire­ments for the tax cred­it.”

The delay ap­plies only to those states us­ing the fed­er­al ex­change. State-run ex­changes have gen­er­ally had a smooth­er start to im­ple­ment­a­tion for their in­di­vidu­al mar­ket­places and SHOP ex­changes.

Re­pub­lic­an law­makers jumped on the new, cit­ing the delay as an­oth­er ex­ample of a flawed Af­ford­able Care Act. “Once again, Pres­id­ent Obama has uni­lat­er­ally delayed an­oth­er ma­jor por­tion of Obama­care, and once again, he has tried to bury bad news around a hol­i­day, hop­ing nobody will no­tice,” House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor, R-Va., wrote in a state­ment. A delay in the law’s em­ploy­er man­date was an­nounced this year just two days be­fore the Ju­ly 4 hol­i­day.

HHS is still work­ing to re­pair Health­Care.gov. Of­fi­cials say it will be run­ning smoothly for the ma­jor­ity of users by Sat­urday as prom­ised by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, but high traffic over the hol­i­day re­mains a con­cern.

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