Small businesses looking to sign up for health insurance coverage through the federal-run health care exchanges will have to wait until after the November 2014 midterm elections, the White House confirmed Wednesday.
Businesses with fewer than 50 employees have been able to sign up for Obamacare since Oct. 1, but enrollments have been restricted to paper applications. And the White House has now pushed back the launch date for the federal-run online exchanges to the end of November, hoping that things will "work smoothly for the vast majority of users" by Dec. 1.
The Department of Health and Human Services will reportedly announce other enrollment options for businesses with 50 or fewer employees, including enrolling through an agent or broker or directly through an insurer, Politico reported.
“We’ve concluded that we can best serve small employers by continuing this offline process while we concentrate on both creating a smoothly functioning online experience in the SHOP Marketplace (federal-run small-businesses exchanges), and adding key new features, including an employee choice option and premium aggregation services, by November 2014,” an HHS official said in a notice.
Online enrollment in the SHOP exchanges was delayed just days before the Oct. 1 launch of the error-plagued healthcare.gov website. HHS originally said online enrollment for small businesses would be available “sometime in November.” Administration officials later clarified, saying online enrollment for small businesses would be ready by the end of November.
Now HHS is saying online enrollment in the SHOP exchanges won't be ready until at least November 2014.
Supporters of the health care law have voiced 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, president of the pro-Obamacare Small Business Majority. "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."
Meanwhile, the bill's opponents have wasted no time pointing out the continued failures of the law's implementation.
“While Americans prepare for the holidays and one day after President Obama gave another speech trying to blame the ObamaCare trainwreck on Republicans, his administration is delaying yet another portion of his signature healthcare law. With each passing day, it’s clear how much worse ObamaCare is than a website full of glitches," Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement.
"Yet again the Administration has made a wholesale change to their signature piece of legislation because of the disastrous impact it is having on Americans. It’s time we stop delaying pieces of ObamaCare and instead scrap it and start over with common sense reforms that will actually lower costs and increase access to care," he added.
The delay only applies to online enrollment in the federal-run SHOP exchanges, meaning 36 states will be affected.
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This post has been updated.