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Interest In Obamacare Exchanges For Small Business Still Languishing

The Obamacare exchanges for small businesses still aren’t attracting much interest, while some customers are reporting problems with the website, according to The Washington Post.

Obamacare’s small business exchanges haven’t attracted nearly as much attention as the individual marketplaces. While the federal Small Business Health Options Program exchange, which serves 32 states, was open in 2014, it wasn’t available online. It was supposed to launch in Oct. 2013 along with HealthCare.gov, but the Obama administration delayed the federal website by one year in order to handle the individual exchange’s meltdown first.

Unsurprisingly, enrollment for 2014 was appallingly low. In the 18 states which ran their own exchanges, just 76,000 workers at small businesses were signed up by Nov. 2014; the Obama administration didn’t provide data for its own exchanges. The Congressional Budget Office had predicted two million enrollees nationwide in the SHOP exchanges’ first year. (RELATED: Feds: Enrollment In Obamcare’s Small Business Exchanges Is Shockingly Low)

The new federal website launched with 2015 plans on Nov. 15, the same day as HealthCare.gov’s individual exchange, but unlike the three-month window to purchase an individual plan, SHOP exchanges are open for business year-round.

But even with the launch of a new website, the SHOP portion of HealthCare.gov attracted just 200,00 visits during its first week; the website’s individual exchange had 1.5 million visitors that same week, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services told The Washington Post.

CMS would not provide data on how many small businesses opted to purchase plans or how many workers have already signed up, in contrast to the administration’s many vows of increased transparency with regards to Obamacare this year. CMS has released a total number of sign-ups on the federal government’s individual exchange (220,000 in the first week) and has promised to release full data monthly, suggesting that the agency is capable of putting enrollment numbers together for the small business portion of the website as well. (RELATED: Obamacare Transparency Pledges Undercut By Silence On Sign-Ups) 

Website glitches are presenting a problem for some insurance brokers, according to The Washington Post. Some brokers are having trouble accessing their accounts; others have reported that some options on the website don’t line up with existing laws.

Some pages on the exchange don’t allow brokers to proceed with purchasing a plan until an employee number assigned to each worker is entered, although many small business don’t assign identification numbers to their workers. Another section asks how long an employer wants new hires to wait before becoming eligible for employer-provided coverage; while up to a 90-day wait is legal, the website maxes out at 60 days.

But despite some technical the problems, the website is working fairly well. The main problem, according to The Washington Post, is just a lack of interest on the part of small businesses.

Obamacare does contain a requirement that small business workers should be offered a choice of health plans, which would have helped to make SHOP exchanges viable. But the employee choice provision was postponed twice, now through the end of 2015. Eighteen of the 32 states using the federal SHOP exchange have opted out of the requirement. Without a mandate forcing small business owners’ hands, it appears that the exchanges may continue to struggle to gain sign-ups.

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