The government-run insurance HealthCare.gov website will not be able to process new applications from small businesses due to some snags in the system. Julie Bataille, the director of the Office of Communications for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said on Wednesday that small business owners can instead enrol in the meantime through agents, brokers or to go directly to the insurer. Bataille added that this will present no problem because this is already being implemented since Oct. 1 and many businesses are already being served directly by brokers and agents. This set-up for enrolment will be observed until November 2014.
Federal officials said that emergency repairs are currently being undertaken on the beleaguered website which is supposed to be a convenient venue for individuals to apply for insurance. The repairs and adjustments are meant to accommodate 50,000 simultaneous transactions, federal officials added. Right now, it is capable of handling 25,000 users at any given time.
The law requires companies with 50 or more employees to get insurance coverage for their employees or they will be penalized by 2015 if they do not comply. Businesses with less than 50 employees are not required to offer insurance coverage to their employees and are given one-year enrolment period.
The Small Business Health Options Program (often referred to as SHOP) is meant to assist employers secure insurance coverage for their employees at competitive premiums. As an incentive, businesses that use the SHOP to purchase insurance coverage can get a tax credit of up to 50 percent. But buying insurance through agents and brokers can also be counted for the credit purposes.
As expected, not everyone is happy with the delay. Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo. who is also the chairman of the House Small Business Committee opined that this latest delay “is more proof that the law (Obamacare) is unworkable and bad for small businesses,” This even came at a time when many are anxious and uncertain about the effects of Obamacare, he added.
Kevin Kuhlman, manager of the conservative National Federation of Independent Business, a lobbying group said that the current administration is not concerned with the plight of small businesses. The added paperwork required can be a burden for most employers and will force them to get early renewals for their small-group plans.
Mary Taylor, an insurance director in Ohio who is also a Republican lieutenant governor said that this delay “complicates an already chaotic insurance market.”
However, a liberal small business association Main Street Alliance saw the current situation differently. Instead of making things worse, this can be a good thing for small businesses. The group admitted that they too are disappointed with the delay but said that the direct enrolment will ensure that more small businesses will be able to access the Affordable Care Act in 2014.
John Arensmeyer, CEO of Small Business Majority, an advocacy organization that supports the healthcare law said that the delay is indeed unfortunate but this does not change the fact that the open market can offer more competitive premiums for health insurance coverage which is beneficial especially for small businesses.
The concern of the timing of the delay in the government’s insurance website efficient operation can be a cause of worry for many people. But there are also people who are looking beyond the delay and maybe this can even be good and not bad for small businesses after all.
By Roberto I. Belda