Obamacare update: Small business insurance program delayed

The launch of a program designed to create a health insurance marketplace for small businesses will be delayed, the Obama administration announced Monday. As a result, small employers initially will not have a range of options when it comes to selecting health care plans for their workers.

The program, which is part of the Affordable Care Act, is supposed to enable qualified small businesses to purchase insurance for their employees through state-based Web portals known as Small Business Health Options Programs, or SHOPs.

These insurance exchanges would allow small businesses to pool together to spread their financial risk, but they won’t be ready in time for full implementation of the ACA on Jan. 1, 2014. Instead of a choice of qualified health plans from multiple insurers, small companies buying insurance through the exchange will be offered a single plan.

The program was supposed to be ready by Oct. 1 of this year, but administration officials said they would delay the program until 2015 in the 33 states, including Wisconsin, where the federal government will be running health care insurance exchanges. They also will delay the requirement for other states.

The administration cited operational challenges as the reason for the delay in creating an employee choice model, but with health insurance costs rising higher than anticipated in advance of full ACA implementation, even supporters of the law expressed disappointment. U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat from Louisiana, told the New York Times the delay would “prolong and exacerbate health care costs that are crippling 29 million small businesses.”

Landrieu voted for the law when it was enacted in March of 2010.

Among other things, the program is supposed to provide small businesses with a range of choices, like large companies have, and consolidate billing so they can offer workers a choice without contracting with multiple insurers.