Another Health Care Law Postponement, This One for Small Businesses

WASHINGTON (Tribune Washington Bureau/MCT) -

Beset by problems with the rollout of the presidents’ health care law, the Obama administration has canceled plans to allow small businesses in many states to use a website to select health insurance plans for their employees for next year.

Officials said they needed to concentrate on fixing the website that allows individuals who do not get coverage at work to sign up for insurance.

Instead of a website, small employers in 35 states will have to go through insurance brokers or deal directly with insurance companies to get a health plan that meets new standards in the Affordable Care Act, as many already do.

The administration’s announcement does not affect businesses in states such as California or New York that are operating their own Obamacare marketplaces, many of which have been successfully enrolling people. And because small businesses can still sign up their workers through brokers, the lack of a website may not have a large, short-term impact on coverage.

But the postponement marks another major setback for administration hopes to showcase the Affordable Care Act’s promise and to demonstrate an ability to implement the law effectively.

Republicans quickly pounced on the latest bad news.

“It’s another broken promise and more proof this administration’s assurances have no credibility,” said House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio. “This law has been an absolute disaster, leaving us to ask ‘what’s next?’ ”

Administration officials said they hope that a website allowing small employers to shop online among plans will be operational by next November so employers can select plans for 2015.

“It was important for us to prioritize the functionality that would enable consumers individually to shop and enroll online,” said Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is working on the websites. The agency has been focused for the last two months on improving the troubled website that is intended for use by millions of consumers who do not get health coverage through an employer.

The small-business marketplaces – known as Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP, exchanges – were supposed to offer small employers the same online ability to compare health plans for their employees and select up to several options. But the SHOP marketplaces have been dogged by many of the same problems that led to the disastrous rollout of the online marketplaces for individual consumers.

“It’s disappointing,” said John Arensmeyer, CEO of Small Business Majority, a business group that has supported the Affordable Care Act. “It’s important it get up and running as soon as possible.”