However, citing operation challenges, the administration has delayed that component until 2015.
Until the exchanges are fully functional, most business owners will be limited to selecting just one plan to cover all their employees under the new federal system. Some may have additional choices if their states run exchanges with more flexibility.
“My understanding is that this was one the ways they sold the bill, that this would bring down the costs for small businesses,” said Jody Manor, who owns a cafe and catering company in Alexandria, Va. and was featured in an earlier story on the health care law. “Here was the option to have more competition in the market, and it’s being delayed. It’s really disappointing.”
Small business owners often pay higher premiums for health care than large employers, primarily because the latter have a bigger pool of workers to shoulder the risks and therefore receive more flexible plans from insurers. In pushing the health care law through Congress, President Obama and Democratic leaders insisted that the bill would help level the playing field for large and small employers.
The plan was to offer smaller firms the same multiple-plan and employee-choice options available to their bigger counterparts, but allow employers to pay one lump sum to the exchanges, which would then distribute the payments to each insurance company. Thus, business owners would have added flexibility without the added billing and administrative requirements.
Now, that flexibility must wait at least another year.
Small business advocacy and lobbying groups echoed Manor’s sense of frustration with the delay; however, they brushed aside the notion that the holdup would have significant repercussions for small firms.
“It’s a hiccup,” John Arensmeyer, president of Small Business Majority, a lobbying organization that has long supported the health care law, said in an interview. “It may have a brief impact on the pressures we hoped would push down cost, but the absence of these features for one year will not make a huge difference.”
Arensmeyer warned that the delay may deter some employers from registering on the exchanges during the first year, and for those who do, fewer buyers may mean slightly higher prices for coverage. However, he said the one-year setback should not outweigh the benefits of other provisions that are designed to bring down costs, like a strict insurance rate review process and a mandate that 80 percent of small business insurance premiums go directly to the cost of providing care.