This holiday season online shopping is soaring, but there’s one thing many American small business owners will not be able to buy on the Internet: health care insurance for their companies. On the eve of Thanksgiving, the Obama administration announced that small businesses in the 36 states served by www.HealthCare.gov will not be allowed to buy medical insurance coverage for their employees through the government-operated website until November 2014. Until then, owners in the affected states who desire to buy the Small Business Health Option Program (SHOP) for workers will have to make the purchase directly through an insurer, agent, or broker.
HealthCare.gov has been beset by crippling technical problems since launching last month. Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicine and Medicaid Services, said officials felt it was more “important” to get the malfunctioning site’s application and enrollment features for individuals up and running before turning to enabling the site for small business owner buying.
The delay in allowing online purchasing has prompted criticism from small business owners and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). “Small businesses continue to be low on the priority list during the Obamacare implementation process,” Kevin Kuhlman, NFIB’s manager of legislative affairs, said in a statement. “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 continued delays add to uncertainty and contribute to the decision of many owners to take early renewals of their small-group plans.”
The postponement of web-based purchasing of SHOP for businesses with less than 50 employees applies only to companies in the states where health insurance is sold through HealthCare.gov. Small firms in the other 14 states and the District of Columbia can buy insurance online through state government-run health exchanges.