NEWS: Washington Post: "One week away, Obamacare’s small business insurance exchanges not all ready for launch"

September 23, 2013

OBAMACARE READINESS ALERT

With one week left before the next phase of the health law kicks off on October 1, The Washington Post today examined some of the potential challenges still facing small business exchanges. The delays and missed deadlines that have plagued implementation have not subsided as open enrollment approaches. Unfortunately, the situation surrounding small business exchanges offers further proof of what one former HHS official involved in exchange matters recently called a “redefinition of what ‘start’ means.” With each day that passes it becomes increasingly clear that this law is not ready for prime time.

September 23, 2013

One week away, Obamacare’s small business insurance exchanges not all ready for launch

New health insurance marketplaces for small businesses are scheduled to open across the country next week, and while most states are ready to begin enrollment, others have fallen behind, delaying some of the savings employers were promised under Obamacare.

District officials, for example, say all systems are go for launch for the city’s new health insurance exchange on October 1, the deadline established by the Affordable Care Act for states and the federal government to open enrollment for new, online insurance marketplaces. …

Meanwhile, some states have already stumbled out of the gate.

In Maryland, for example, the marketplace for individuals will be ready for launch on Tuesday; however, the state has elected to delay enrollment for its small business exchange until the start of next year, when plans were supposed to take effect. Instead, coverage under those plans will commence in March at the earliest.

Joshua M. Sharfstein, chairman of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange board, said in an interview that his team needed more time to perfect its portal, making the individual marketplace priority number one over the past few months. …

However, Maryland’s delay will postpone employers’ access to the breaks, as starting next year, the credits will only be available through the small business exchanges.

Maryland employers aren’t the only ones that will have to wait. In Washington state, only one insurance company signed up for the small business exchange, and it will only provide coverage to certain regions. Others will have no health insurance options when the portal opens next week, and it is unclear how (or if) they will be able to access the credits.

In Minnesota and Wisconsin, meanwhile, state-run small business exchanges are set to open on schedule, but government officials have in the last few weeks warned that the programs in both states might have some glitches or limitations when they first launch.

The same may be true of the federal government’s new insurance exchanges.

Most states, including Virginia, elected to fall back on marketplaces set up and run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which has said the federal exchanges for individuals and employers in those states will be ready to open next week.

However, this summer, officials announced that the federal government’s small business portal will not allow employers the same flexibility business owners will have in the District. For the first year, employers will have to choose a single plan for their entire company, rather than the multiple-plan option lawmakers envisioned.

More importantly, software glitches on the federal exchange are making it difficult for the Web site to “reliably determine how much people need to pay for coverage,” according to a report last week by The Wall Street Journal.

In response, Joel Ario, a former HHS official who oversaw health exchange matters at the agency, told The Post’s Sarah Kliff that “nobody is going to say we’re not starting on October 1, but in some situations, you may see a redefinition of what ‘start’ means.”

Read the entire story online here.

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