In a conference call with reporters, administration officials said employers who want to buy marketplace plans for their workers now will need to go through an agent, broker or insurance company to buy coverage this year, instead of using a government website. The administration says the plan will still allow small businesses to buy coverage but avoid slowing technical repairs to the hobbled federal online site.
The small business marketplace, also called SHOP, was supposed to provide employers a new way to shop for coverage, and the delay was met with 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, CEO of Small Business Majority, an advocacy group. "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."
Small businesses buying coverage will still be eligible for tax credits to bring down the cost, according an administration memo.
The recent setback is the latest in a stream of missed deadlines, including a postponement for a Spanish language sign-up tool announced this week. The administration also recently pushed back the enrollment deadline for individuals: People who sign up by Dec. 23 can get coverage that starts on Jan. 1. In an earlier delay, businesses with more than 50 workers were given until 2015 to meet the requirement to provide health insurance without paying a penalty. And the deadline date for individuals to avoid penalties for failing to get coverage was pushed back six weeks.