The Obama Administration announced a year delay in HealthCare.gov's small business functions. The administration had previously delayed online enrollment from October 1, 2013 to the end of November. The announcement did not come as a surprise to many small businesses as they have already made other plans for insuring their workers in 2014, frequently achieved by renewing the existing policies.
HealthCare.gov serves customers for health insurance in 36 states. It was originally designed to help small businesses as well as individuals. However, Administration officials said with the widespread website problems, they had to focus on the basic functions of the website, so that individuals could shop for insurance, before offering online enrollment for small businesses.
Officials have encouraged small business owners to work through insurance brokers or agents. Owners who buy qualifying coverage through an agent may be eligible for tax credits under the Affordable Care Act. The New York Times reported an Administration official saying, “The agent, broker or insurer will help the employer fill out a paper application for SHOP eligibility and send it in to the SHOP marketplace." The insurer can also tell employers what premiums they would have to pay and can enroll employees.
The Wall Street Journal interviewed Sharon Hoyer, general manager of Dill Pickle Food Co-op in Chicago, which has nine full-time employees including herself, who said she preferred going through her agent. "I imagine we'll have a speedier response."
The Wall Street Journal also interviewed Nancy Clark, owner of Glen Group, an eight-person advertising firm in North Conway, N.H., who said she sent in a paper application for small business coverage under the new healthcare law last week because the online option wasn't available. While she is still waiting to see how much group coverage would cost, she said it was likely she would ask each of her employees to apply for individual coverage online. Ms. Clark said she would continue to pay for health coverage as she has done for the past 15 years, but "I am going to pay through raises."
Congress had wanted to provide small business employees with a range of health plan options. While some state-run exchanges, not affected by the announcement, will allow employers to offer such choices to employees, the federal exchange will not do so until 2015.