The online marketplace where small business owners can purchase health insurance plans for their employees has been delayed by a full year, most likely to avoid some of the technical problems that have plagued Healthcare.gov, the marketplace for individuals.
The government-run Small Business Health Option Program, or SHOP, has been repeatedly pushed back but was expected to launch this month. The administration says it will "concentrate on both creating a smoothly functioning online experience in the SHOP Marketplace, and adding key new features" before the site opens.
Small businesses will be able to compare plans online, but they're being directed to an agent, broker, or insurance company in order to get enrolled. The agent will "help the employer fill out a paper application for SHOP eligibility and send it in to the SHOP Marketplace" according to a document released by the administration.
Yesterday, the administration announced that the unreleased Spanish version of Healthcare.gov would be delayed until "early December."
A broker will help small businesses to fill out a paper application
The SHOP exchange was delayed because resources were diverted to fixing Healthcare.gov, says Julie Bataille, spokesperson for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the health department agency responsible for the site. Healthcare.gov has been the focus of an emergency tech team that is working to repair it. The administration says the site will be "working smoothly for the vast majority of users" by a self-imposed deadline of November 30th — three days from now — but repairs will continue after that date.
The move to delay SHOP will likely provoke criticism from opponents of the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law that mandated the existence of the two online marketplaces. It also raises questions about why Healthcare.gov wasn't delayed given its poor performance.