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Small biz health care site delayed

By Jay MacDonald ·
Monday, December 2, 2013
Posted: 11 am ET

In yet another course correction to the online rollout of Obamacare, the federal government last week postponed the debut of its small business website for a year in order to concentrate on its goal to sign up 7 million uninsured consumers for individual health insurance by next April.

The Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP exchange, will now open for online enrollment in November 2014, with new coverage to take effect in January 2015, according to the Health and Human Services Department. The Obama administration previously announced a similar postponement to the requirement that large employers offer health insurance to employees.

It's only the latest change of plans

The concession was made a couple of days after the feds extended the deadline to apply for 2014 coverage -- that is, a policy that will take effect on Jan. 1 -- from Dec. 15 to Dec. 23.

Both announcements came just before the administration's own Dec. 1 deadline to unveil a new, improved site capable of accommodating 50,000 users at once and 800,000 visitors per day. The overwhelmed health insurance portal, which operates the online exchanges for 36 states that have not launched their own, has been intermittently closed for repairs and upgrades since its disastrous Oct. 1 debut.

The administration announced Sunday that while it has increased capacity and decreased errors on the nation's main Obamacare portal, the site will remain a work in progress as the technology team assesses its performance under peak traffic conditions.

Old-fashioned alternatives to SHOP site

Small businesses, defined as those with fewer than 50 employees, don't have to wait for the SHOP website reboot, however. The administration says those businesses that want to cover their employees through the health care law's insurance marketplace for small businesses can still apply and enroll through an agent or broker. And officials say those businesses may still take advantage of tax credits to help lower the cost.

It's not the first tweak to the SHOP exchange. Last April, the feds delayed an Affordable Care Act option that the small businesses offer a variety of competing insurance plans for employees through the marketplace. Instead, employers in most states are now limited to offering their workers just one plan.

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