CHICAGO - The Obama administration is delaying yet another aspect of the health care law, putting off until next November the launch of an online portal to the health insurance marketplace for small businesses.
The move, announced Wednesday, was needed because repairs are still underway to the troubled HealthCare.gov website, which is the primary way for individuals to apply for insurance, and that has priority, federal officials said.
In a conference call with reporters, administration officials said employers who want to buy marketplace plans for their workers now will need to go through an agent, broker or insurance company this year, instead of using the government website. The administration said the plan will still allow small businesses to buy coverage but avoid slowing technical repairs to the hobbled federal online site.
This photo of part of the HealthCare.gov website page featuring information about the SHOP Marketplace is photographed in Washington, Wednesday.
Under the law, most small businesses do not have to provide coverage. But firms with 50 or more employees face a mandate to offer insurance or risk fines from the government in 2015.
The HealthCare.gov site, where individuals without employer-sponsored health care can shop for insurance, is now smoothly handling 25,000 users at the same time and is on track to meet its goal of handling 50,000 simultaneous users by Saturday, said administration spokeswoman Julie Bataille. "We have a lot of work left to do in the next few days," she said.
The small business marketplace, also called SHOP, was supposed to provide employers a new way to shop for coverage. The website was to make comparison shopping easier while promoting competition and keeping premiums down. The delay, which doesn't affect states running their own marketplaces, was met with frustration.
"It's disappointing that the online portion of the federal small business marketplace through Healthcare.gov will be delayed, and it's important it get up and running as soon as possible," said John Arensmeyer, CEO of Small Business Majority, an advocacy group that supports the health care law. "However, it doesn't change the fact that the marketplace can offer the most competitive combination of price and quality for small businesses purchasing health insurance."