U.S. delays online health insurance enrollment for small businesses

WASHINGTON Wed Nov 27, 2013 3:44pm EST

A man looks over the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare) signup page on the HealthCare.gov website in New York in this October 2, 2013 photo illustration. REUTERS/Mike Segar

A man looks over the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare) signup page on the HealthCare.gov website in New York in this October 2, 2013 photo illustration.

Credit: Reuters/Mike Segar

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration on Wednesday postponed online health insurance enrollment for small businesses under Obamacare for one year, a move quickly seized upon by critics as proof the healthcare reform law should be delayed or replaced.

The announcement affecting businesses with 50 or fewer workers was the latest in a series of delays that have diminished the scope of President Barack Obama's landmark healthcare law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Administration officials said the delay stemmed from the need to focus on fixing HealthCare.gov by a Saturday deadline for having the enrollment website working smoothly for most visitors from the 36 states it serves.

The online market portal has been hobbled by technical problems since its launch on October 1, frustrating millions of Americans seeking information on new individual health coverage required under the law.

"It was important for us to prioritize the functionality that would enable consumers individually to shop and enroll online in coverage," said Julie Bataille, communications director for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the federal agency responsible for the Obamacare marketplaces.

Online enrollment for small businesses was originally expected to be available on October 1. Administration officials say they now plan to offer web-based enrollment services by November 2014.

Republicans, who want to repeal or fundamentally alter the law, pounced on the fact that the announcement came on the eve of the Thanksgiving Day holiday when many Americans are distracted by travel and family activities. Last summer, the administration delayed the law's coverage mandate for larger businesses just before the July 4 Independence Day holiday.

"The administration is doing its best to bury the latest confirmation that this law was not ready for prime time," Representative Fred Upton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a statement.

The National Federation of Independent Business, a trade group that asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Obamacare in 2012, blasted the announcement as a new burden for employers.

"It probably matters little to people in Washington that the failure to get the small business exchanges online adds yet another onerous paperwork requirement for job creators," the organization said.

Employers seeking coverage through the federal Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP, marketplace will be able to enroll off-line through insurance companies, agents and brokers, the administration said. Until now, SHOP enrollment had been available only through paper applications.

Administration officials said insurance agents and brokers already serve many small businesses, so the avenue should be familiar to those who want Obamacare coverage for their employees.

Businesses with fewer than 50 employees are not required to offer insurance to their workers and have a one-year enrollment period, versus six months for individuals.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton in Washington and Lewis Krauskopf in New York; Editing by Michele Gershberg, David Brunnstrom and Philip Barbara)

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Comments (3)
TheNewWorld wrote:
I don’t think Obama thought he would be President in 2013. Otherwise he would have made the mandates start in 2015. He clearly wants to extend all of the negative effects of the ACA until he is out of, or on his way out of the office. For you Hillary Clinton supporters out there, do you really think you want the Democrats to hold the Presidency in 2017 with the full effect of this bill, 20 trillion in debt, if the economy improves our debt payments go from $300 billion to $1 trillion. Do you really want the Democrats there when this all blows up?

It would make more sense to put a Republican in office like Coolidge or Wilson prior to or during the great depression. Blame them for not fixing the mess that Bush and Obama left for them, and get a figure like FDR to see us through the storm that is coming. I know you Democrats hate to deal with fiscal reality, but we can’t afford to keep on going like we are.

The Fed has kept the interest rates abnormally low. When the economy gets to a moderate rate of growth (we have been anemic and fragile since the dot com bubble in 2000, 9-11 effects, decent growth in 2003-2006, and then recession in 2008-2010 and low growth till this year), the interest rates have to go back to the normal low of 2-3%. That takes the interest on our debt from $300 billion to $1 trillion a year. The Republican House has got us down from a deficit of 1.294 in 2010 (last year of Democrat House/Senate), up to 1.3 trillion in 2011, down to 1.087 trillion in 2012, and down to 680 billion in 2013. Take that 680 billion and add 700 billion that goes completely to interest on the debt. It is wasted money. Lets say, the economy is healthy and produces another 300 billion in revenues to go with the added interest increase. We are still back up to over 1 trillion in deficit each year, which further increases the interest payment on the debt. GW Bush, and Obama has put us in a serious situation and someone has to bend. We can not continue down this road. We will not have the luxury of being the world’s currency much longer.

Nov 27, 2013 1:51pm EST  --  Report as abuse
SirSmitty wrote:
There is irony here…the republicans tried to give the dems a gift with a delay, but noooOOOooo, the dems put on their “stupid” hats to try and “win” the shutdown game; play stupid games and win stupid prizes. If they could have just seen past their own ideological blinders and groupthink tendencies, they could have avoided all this, courtesy of the republican party; stupid stupid people…they deserve to get canned next year.

Nov 27, 2013 1:59pm EST  --  Report as abuse
QuidProQuo wrote:
Obama is just in over his head and is an embarassment to our nation. Thankfully, there are others both in our country and outside of our country that have been able to stop him from being even more destructive than he could be. When you elect a one term senator with no real world experience and out of control rabid frenzied designed schemes, there should be no surprise things ahve become such a sad and sick mess. He has set the tone for too many bobbing head brain washed followers. Uber liberalism has totally made our nation a noisy immoral and vicious nation. I don’t like uber liberalism. It makes people ugly, joyless, faithless, and bitter. Can’t wait till Obama is gone, gone, gone from the White House. That day can’t come fast enough.

Nov 27, 2013 2:59pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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