CHICAGO (AP) — Small businesses interested in buying marketplace health insurance plans for their workers will have to purchase them from agents, brokers or insurance companies for the next year, rather than through the government website.
The Obama administration, in yet another delay, is putting off the launch of its online portal to the health insurance marketplace for small businesses until November 2014.
The move, announced Wednesday, was needed because repairs are still underway to the troubled HealthCare.gov website, which is the primary way for individuals to apply for insurance, and that has priority, federal officials said.
The administration said the plan will still allow small businesses to buy coverage while avoiding a slowdown in technical repairs to the hobbled federal online site.
Under the law, most small businesses do not have to provide coverage. But companies with 50 or more employees face a mandate to offer insurance or risk fines from the government in 2015.
The HealthCare.gov site, where individuals without employer-sponsored health care can shop for insurance, is now smoothly handling 25,000 users at the same time and is on track to meet its goal of handling 50,000 simultaneous users by Saturday, administration spokeswoman Julie Bataille said. "We have a lot of work left to do in the next few days," she added.
The small business marketplace, also called SHOP, was supposed to provide employers a new way to shop for coverage. The website was to make comparison shopping easier while promoting competition and keeping premiums down. The delay, which doesn't affect states running their own marketplaces, was met with frustration.
"It's disappointing that the online portion of the federal small business marketplace through Healthcare.gov will be delayed, and it's important it get up and running as soon as possible," said John Arensmeyer, CEO of Small Business Majority, an advocacy group that supports the health care law. "However, it doesn't change the fact that the marketplace can offer the most competitive combination of price and quality for small businesses purchasing health insurance."