A long-delayed section of the federal health care exchange website intended to help small business owners enroll their employees in health insurance plans for 2015 has drawn relatively little interest compared to the site's plans for individuals, according to a published report.
The Washington Post, citing data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, reported Sunday that the home page for the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) drew 200,000 visits during its first week. By contrast, more than 1.5 million people visited Healthcare.gov's plan page for individuals over the same period. It was not immediately clear how many employers have offered health coverage to their employees through the plans or how many employees have bought them.
The Post also reported that insurers are having trouble accessing their accounts on the site and are not appearing in the system's master lists of professionals available to advise small businesses. The paper reported, citing confidential federal documents, that parts of the online marketplace are still being tested. CMS spokesman Aaron Albright claimed that the sections of the site needed to explore and select health plans has been "thoroughly tested."
The SHOP Marketplace was originally intended to debut on Oct. 1 of last year, along with the other health care exchanges. However, amid massive problems with the launch of Healthcare.gov, the Obama administration announced that the start of online enrollment would be delayed. Initially, the postponement was only supposed to last until November of 2013, but the White House ultimately pushed the launch back to November of this year.
The administration also postponed a requirement that small business employees be offered a choice of health plans in their area. Earlier this year, federal health officials told states that they still didn't have to honor that requirement. In all, the Post reports, 18 of the 32 states using SHOP to offer coverage declined to offer choices.
Brokers tell the paper that another reason for the tepid interest in the SHOP website as that under ObamaCare, businesses only qualify for tax credits if they have fewer than 25 workers, specified salary levels and other characteristics. Even if businesses do meet the criteria for tax credits, they only last for two years.