Obama administration delays online health care sign-up for small businesses

McClatchy Washington BureauNovember 27, 2013 

Obama Insurance CEOs

President Barack Obama makes a statement before the start of a meeting with representatives of health insurance companies. From left are, Chris Jennings, deputy assistant to the president for Health Policy; Department of Health and Human Services Office of Health Reform Director Michael Hash; Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services head Marilyn Tavenner; the president; White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough; White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler.

EVAN VUCCI — AP

The Obama administration said Wednesday it will delay for one year the online enrollment for small businesses buying insurance through the new health care law.

The Small Business Health Options Program, known as the SHOP exchange, will start online enrollment in November 2014, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. It had already been delayed once from October to November.

Online enrollment was supposed to provide small businesses with a more efficient way to buy insurance coverage for their workers. But they will still have the option to buy insurance through a broker or agent, who will help them filie out a paper application.

Small businesses have been able to apply for exchange coverage by paper application since Oct. 1.

Administration officials said that the decision was made so as to prioritize fixes to the individual health exchange, which the White House has promised will "work smoothly for the vast majority of users" by Dec. 1.

Republicans criticized the announcement, which came the day before Thanksgiving, as much of Washington had already left for the holiday. In July, just before the Independence Day holidays, the administration delayed the employer mandate for a year.

"Once again, President Obama has unilaterally delayed another major portion of ObamaCare, and once again, he has tried to bury bad news around a holiday hoping nobody will notice," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. "These are hardly the actions of a transparent administration."

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called again on Obama to repeal -- or at least delay -- the entire law.

"The president bit off more than he can chew with this health care law, and small businesses are now forced to bear the consequences," Boehner said. "It's another broken promise and more proof this administration's assurances have no credibility. This law has been an absolute disaster, leaving us to ask what's next; If the president won’t repeal it, he should at least delay the entire law before it wreaks any more havoc on American families and small businesses, as well as our economy."

The delay impacts businesses in the 36 states where the federal government is running the health insurance exchange.

"Today's decision underscores the unmatched complexity of the Affordable Care Act, and highlights the fact that the administration and Congress failed to adequately understand the negative repercussions of the law," said Neil Trautwein, the National Retail Federation's vice president and employee benefits policy counsel. "It is hard not to be disappointed that employers and employees will not be able to access care through the website."

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