HHS confirms small business exchange delay

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has officially postponed until 2015 one aspect of the federal health insurance exchange used by small businesses.

In a final rule released Friday, HHS said it's too complicated for insurers to meet the original 2014 deadline to sell plans on the federal small business health options program (SHOP).

The transitional policy, which HHS first proposed in a rule released in April, means small businesses can still choose a single plan offered within the federal SHOP exchanges for all of their employees in 2014, but their workers won't be able to select a plan for themselves until the following year.

"We have serious concerns that issuers would not be operationally ready to offer [qualified health plans] through the SHOP if we implemented employee choice for 2014," HHS wrote in the rule.

The regulation only applies to the federally-run SHOP exchanges, which will be operational in 33 states. The other 17 states and the District of Columbia that are creating their own exchanges can implement the employee choice model next year if they want.

"The SHOP will still provide employers with a streamlined comparison of health plans from multiple health insurance issuers, assistance modeling employee contributions, and real-time premium quotes," HHS said. "Further, plans sold on the SHOP must be certified as [qualified health plans], meaning that they must meet minimum standards in order for issuers to sell them on the SHOP."

To learn more:
- here's the HHS final rule (.pdf)