Important Alert: Obama Administration Announces New Health Exchange Delay

The White House announced Thursday that it was pushing a piece of the Affordable Care Act's SHOP exchanges, news that was carried by many major papers and websites, which portrayed it as the latest in a series of delays for the beleaguered law. The Washington Post (9/26, Harrison) reports that the Obama Administration is delaying yet another piece of the health care overhaul, this time pushing back online enrollment for small business owners on the new federal health insurance exchange. With this latest delay, small business owners will not be able to purchase coverage online until Nov. 1 on the SHOP exchanges. Instead, for the first month, they will have to mail or fax their information to government officials to enroll.

The New York Times (9/27, Shear, Subscription Publication) reports coverage for employees enrolling through their business by Dec. 15 will still begin Jan. 1. Officials said the small business start date was less important than the individual market because businesses remain eligible to enroll all year. Republicans complained the Administration accepted delays for businesses while refusing Republican demands to delay the requirement that individuals get insurance.

The Wall Street Journal (9/27, Radnofsky, Subscription Publication) also reports skepticism that individual online marketplaces will be ready on time, although the Administration stated it expected to meet its deadlines. Miscalculation problems with the exchange-supporting software has also continued into this week, and on Thursday the software that determines eligibility for enrolling customers was making inaccurate decisions. The individual plans are expected to cover seven million people, five million more than the small business plans. According to Peters, We have made significant progress in recent days and weeks and are now completing our final end-to-end testing, which is designed specifically to identify remaining issues before open enrollment and correct them.

Bloomberg News (9/26, Dorning, Wayne) reports the Administration has cautioned that glitches are expected in such a complex system of websites and call centers.

Reuters (9/26, Morgan) reports Hispanics remain approximately 33% of 47 million uninsured Americans, but Hispanic community representatives have expressed concern that the Spanish-language program will be unavailable until Oct. 21, or possibly as late as the 28. Spanish speakers can enroll through a call center or enrollment navigators until then. These glitches are occurring within a substantially-sized new information technology (IT) infrastructure needed to process applications and determine subsidies, but HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius stated in an interview with MSNBC, As promised, people will be able to see what's in the marketplace, how to look at coverage, ask questions about whether or not this is good for their employees, find out about the tax credit then beginning November 1st, do the online enrollment.

CNN (9/26, Pagliery) reports business owners exploring the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) can still look at health plan overviews, but not details like accurate premium costs. Some individuals and organizations question the delay's significance, believing few businesses intend to use the SHOP exchanges and are more likely to utilize brokers instead.

NBC News (9/26, Fox) reports an estimated 10 million latinos are eligible for coverage despite delays in the Spanish-language program, but many experts defend the Administration, insisting such problems are reasonable when launching a complex system requiring secure, rapid communication among the HHS, the IRS, immigration officials and the Labor Department. According to health insurance expert Jay Angoff who helped set up the exchanges at HHS, I wouldn't even characterize the one-month delay in the shop exchange as a glitch, since coverage can't begin anyway until January 1. There may well be real glitches--we'll know on October 1--but this isn't one. Sebelius also stated, What is happening with the SHOP exchange - the small business exchange where for first time a lot of small business owners will be able to compare plans side by side - that will be available on October 1 as promised.

The Washington Post (9/27, Kliff, Somashekhar) reports Carney said the Administration expects 70% of the Latino population to enroll through English-language portals, minimizing the online delay's effect.

USA Today (9/27, Jackson) reports Peters stated, Small businesses will be able to participate in the SHOP beginning on Oct.1 to evaluate their coverage options. In November, small businesses will be able to enroll in coverage options, well ahead of when coverage begins on Jan. 1. Today the Administration is announcing a major outreach campaign to make sure small businesses have the information they need. Open enrollment for the SHOP Marketplace is year round, giving small business owners plenty of time to make a decision. The individual marketplace will still open on time on Oct. 1 with full online enrollment and plan shopping options. Carney also emphasized that applicants can begin the process prior to going online, and it's not as if they are missing out on a time when benefits are available.

The AP (9/27, Alonso-zaldivar) reports Cohen emphasized no further delays are anticipated, stating, The individual market will open on time Oct. 1 with full online enrollment and plan shopping.

To read the full briefing from NAHU, click here.


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