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Online enrollment for small biz health coverage delayed, but not in California

November 27th, 2013 | by Victoria Pelham | Comments

Small businesses won’t be able to enroll online for SHOP plans on the federal Affordable Care Act exchange for another year, the Obama Administration announced Wednesday, news reports said, the latest in a series of delays for his signature health reform law.

Covered California sign

But in California, which embraced the ACA early on and became the first state to create its own exchange in 2010, Covered California announced full self-enrollment online on Tuesday.

The Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) is designed to offer employee coverage packages to businesses with 50 or fewer workers. Small business plans in Riverside County will be offered through Blue Shield, Health Net and Kaiser Permanente. They will include HMOs, HSAs and PPO options. The plans, along with individual policies on the exchange, will go into effect Jan. 1.

The insurance plans will include essential health benefits under the ACA such as preventive services and tax credits for some. They will also have “streamlined invoicing,” where an employer only has to pay one bill for the entire staff, and online management tools for small businesses to keep track of employees’ health coverage.

Before the announcement California small businesses could set up accounts, check employer eligibility and get rate estimates, but now they will be able to sign up online, according to the exchange.

Covered California has projected that about 50,000 people will sign up for SHOP plans for 2014.

But the federal site, healthcare.gov, has been troubled since its inception, with serious malfunctions, system shutdowns, lengthy waits to sign up and incorrect information. About one-third of ACA sign-ups nationally came from California. Now small business online enrollment has been delayed a year.

The administration has also delayed the employer mandate for a year, among other delays, which would require businesses with more than 50 employees to offer coverage or face added fees.

After reports of thousands of people losing insurance policies under ACA changes – and an ensuing uproar over Obama’s oft-repeated comments that “If you like your plan you can keep it” – President Obama also asked for a yearlong delay in policy cancellation. That plan was rejected in California, as the state moves all-in to the law.

Katie Vlietstra, director of government affairs for the National Association for the Self-Employed, called the federal delay in a statement “just another blow to the new health care program.”

“The Obama Administration continues to make it incredibly difficult for small businesses to adequately plan and prepare when they continue to move the goal post,” Vlietstra said. “We are disappointed to say the least; small business owners now have less than 45 days to scramble and find adequate health care coverage for them and their employees.”

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