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There’s another delay for people wanting to use the federal government’s troubled health insurance website. This time, small businesses will have to wait a year to use HealthCare.gov.
The Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) won’t be available for a full year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs the online exchange, said Wednesday. “We anticipate that small employers throughout the country will have online access to an online SHOP Marketplace by November 2014,” the Health and Human Services Department says in its blog.
CMS spokeswoman Julie Bataille said her agency had to focus on the most important customers of the exchange – individuals who don’t have health insurance. “It was important for us to prioritize the functionality that would enable consumers to shop and enroll online in coverage,” Bataille told reporters in a conference call. In other words, they had to focus on making the website work.
It was the second delay in a week. CMS said earlier that the Spanish-language website won’t be up and working until December. And earlier this month CMS gave people an extra eight days, until Dec. 23, to enroll in time to get coverage starting the first day possible, Jan. 1.
Republican critics of the health reform law accused the administration of burying the news in the Thanksgiving rush. "Just as it did over July 4 while we celebrated our independence, today the administration is doing its best to bury the latest confirmation that this law was not ready for prime time," Michigan Republican Rep. Fred Upton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a statement. It was in July that the Health and Human Services Department announced a delay in the requirement that businesses provide health insurance to workers.
"For months officials looked us in the eye and told us everything was ‘on track’ but we have now learned through our investigation that internally the administration had serious concerns about its ability to deliver on October 1," Upton added.
"This new delay announcement is a disappointment but not a surprise," said Kevin Kuhlman of the National Federation of Independent Business. "Small businesses continue to be low on the priority list during the Obamacare implementation process. 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."
Bataille says small businesses can still enroll employees through brokers.
The government has pledged to have the website “working smoothly for the vast majority of users” by the end of the month, which is Saturday. Bataille says capacity will have doubled by then, from the current 25,000 users on the site at any one time, to 50,000 at once.
"November 30 does not represent a relaunch of HealthCare.gov. It is not a magical date," Bataille said.
In case there are more than that, CMS plans to roll out an “advanced queuing system.” Users will be told to wait or given the option of getting an email to tell them when to try back.