HHS delays small business exchange online enrollment

The reform law has suffered yet another setback, this time in the form of another delay to the federally-run small business health insurance exchanges.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services announced Thursday small businesses won't be able to sign up online through the small business health option program (SHOP) when the exchanges open for enrollment next week. They will have to wait until November instead.

Employers can still review their plan options on the SHOP exchanges and sign up by mail or fax starting Oct. 1. But online applications won't be available until November.

HHS said the delay won't affect the start of coverage under plans purchased on the SHOP exchanges, which is slated for Jan. 1. "What is absolutely true is that on Oct. 1, everyone will be able to enroll one way or another," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters, The Hill's Healthwatch reported.

"We just wanted to make sure that we got it right and that it was going to be as helpful to small businesses as it possibly could be," Gary Cohen, director of the HHS Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, told the Washington Post's Wonkblog. "We felt that taking a little bit of additional time to make sure everything is functioning as best as it possibly could be was the right way to go."

Although the postponement doesn't have a major affect on the exchange rollout, it does add fodder to critics who oppose the law, particularly since the news of the delay came shortly after President Barack Obama concluded a speech praising healthcare reform.

"Every step in the implementation process has seen delays and setbacks; we are certainly not surprised by this one," said Kevin Kuhlman, the National Federation of Independent Business' manager of legislative affairs, reported Wonkblog. "Small-business owners should not be forced to comply with a law that is clearly not ready for prime-time. This is starting to seem like a parody; unfortunately, it is extremely serious."

To learn more:
- here's the HHS statement
- read The Hill's Healthwatch article
- see the Washington Post's Wonkblog article