Another day, another ObamaCare delay. On the day before Thanksgiving, the Obama administration quietly announced that its insurance exchange for small businesses will not be functioning for another year — the healthcare law’s second major small-business provision to be put on hold this year.
The Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP), which the federal government is operating in the 36 states in which it is also operating the individual exchange, was originally scheduled to open on October 1, the same day as Healthcare.gov. However, like Healthcare.gov, SHOP was not ready for prime time: It allowed businesses to compare the plans offered on the exchange, but it did not permit them to enroll their employees in a plan.
At the time, the administration claimed enrollment functionality would be in place by November; as that deadline approached, the promise was delayed another month. Now, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), it will take until November 2014, 13 months after it opened, for SHOP to be fully operational.
“Small businesses will still have the option to purchase SHOP health insurance plans through a broker or agent, who will assist the employer with filing a paper application,” reported the Washington Post. “The federal government expects to process those filings for eligibility within three to five days, according to a document circulated to health law stakeholders.”
“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,” read the CMS document.
That “employee choice option,” by the way, is the other significant ObamaCare small-business provision to be delayed this year. Employees of small businesses were supposed to be able to enroll in any one of the plans their employers had selected on the exchange, but last spring the administration announced that such would not be the case for at least another year. For now, employers can select only one plan, and their employees must then take it or leave it — with the proviso that leaving it and not buying coverage elsewhere means violating the individual mandate and incurring a penalty.
Employers with fewer than 25 employees will want to choose a plan on the exchange even if it means extra paperwork; otherwise, they will forfeit a substantial tax credit.
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