The Obama administration announced it is delaying until November 2014 a requirement that small businesses shop for health insurance via the troubled federal HealthCare.gov site, which has been blamed for many problems since its launch last month. The shift applies to businesses with fewer than 50 full-time workers.
"For 2014, small employers will use 'direct enrollment' rather than HealthCare.gov in states where the federal government is running the Marketplace," the Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement issued Wednesday.
As The Washington Post reports, "The federal delay affects the 36 states where the federal government is running the health insurance exchange. It does not change the small business options in the 14 states and the District of Columbia that are running their own exchanges."
The delay in requiring small companies to use the Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP Exchange, means that businesses can enroll their workers in certified plans through brokers and insurers, the federal agency says. It also gives the government more time to smooth out problems in its online marketplace.
"It's disappointing that the online portion of the federal small business marketplace through Healthcare.gov will be delayed," said the Small Business Majority, as Politico reports, "and it's important it get up and running as soon as possible."
After the delay was announced, Republican Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri, chairman of the House Small Business Committee, had this to say:
"If small firms failed to provide services this frequently, they would be fired. Based on the June GAO report on SHOPs readiness that I requested, we knew the administration was not prepared for implementation, but this pattern of continued delay and disarray is especially disappointing."
The change is one of several notable delays by the Obama administration as it has sought to ease deadlines tied to the Affordable Care Act. One of the most important came in July, when the employer mandate was put off for one year. Earlier this month, the administration said it was also postponing the cancellation of insurance policies that don't meet new federal standards.
The Department of Health and Human Services is also tweaking the process for how small employers apply for tax credits related to the Affordable Care Act.
"Small businesses won't have to get certified by the government first," the agency added. "Before this announcement, you had to submit an application before you enrolled in a plan. Given that the application is only for the purpose of the tax credit, today HHS is announcing that you can send it in any time before you file your taxes."