In the latest setback for the rollout of Obamacare, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Thursday that small businesses in 36 states can’t enroll their workers into health coverage through the new federally run insurance marketplaces until at least Nov. 1 – one month later than previously announced.
The delay appears to be the result of computer and information technology problems in the Small Business Health Option Program, known as SHOP, an online insurance marketplace specifically for small employers.
Employers still will be able to compare coverage options and begin the application process on Oct. 1, but they won’t be able to sign up workers for coverage until November.
Glitches and hiccups can occur when sprawling new federal programs are enacted.
The SHOP marketplace was supposed to fully open for business on Oct. 1, along with the state marketplaces where individuals can purchase their 2014 coverage through March 31 to comply with the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, which requires most Americans to have insurance or pay a penalty.
Small employers can enroll in insurance plans through SHOP on a monthly basis throughout the year. They will have until Dec. 15 to enroll for coverage that begins on Jan. 1. The time lag has allowed Maryland to phase in its state-run SHOP program.
The enrollment delay is the second major change in the SHOP program in recent months. Earlier this summer, the Obama administration announced that SHOP programs in federally run marketplaces and those operated jointly with states would have only one plan to choose from to cover their employees in 2014.
Earlier this week, the administration announced that a Health and Human Services Spanish-language website would not be able to enroll people into coverage on Oct. 1 as expected. In July, it issued a one-year delay in the employer mandate, which requires companies with 50 or more full-time workers to provide health insurance.
By Tony Pugh
McClatchy Washington Bureau