Obamacare’s small business exchange encountering new problems on opening day


The health care law’s new federal exchange has hit a new snag on opening day. It is not showing small business owners which plans are available for their companies. (KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)
October 1, 2013

Small business owners had been told they would not be able to enroll in new health care plans online when the federal government’s new insurance exchange opened on Tuesday, but that they would be able to at least view plans and compare prices.

It turns out, for the time being, they cannot do that either.

On opening day for the new insurance marketplace, the federal site advises small business owners that they “can do two things right now” — one, review available plan options, including prices, and two, mail in a paper application (the department last week announced that online enrollment had been delayed until November).

However, the site directs visitors to a page with an error message where the table of plans and prices is intended to appear. The site is also suffering slow processing times due to unexpectedly high volume.

Department of Health and Human Services officials, who built the federal exchange, told On Small Business they are working to correct the problems.

“We have built a dynamic system and expect to speed up the system in the coming hours,” HHS Spokesperson Joanne Peters wrote in an e-mail, noting that, in the past day, more than1 million people visited the federal government’s health care site, Healthcare.gov.

Related: Here’s everything you need to know about the small business exchanges

The error on the small business portal, known as the SHOP exchange, affects employers in the 34 states that elected not to build their own exchanges and instead rely on the federal marketplace.

In addition to the delayed online enrollment announced last week, federal officials have pushed back for one year a feature that was meant to allow business owners to select several insurance plans and give each employee a choice of options. As a result, employers in states that did not build their own exchange must choose only one plan for their entire company in 2014.

Obamacare’s opponents have pointed to those and other setbacks as evidence the law is not ready to be fully implemented. House Republicans on Monday refused to sign a new federal spending plan that did not chip away at the law, forcing a government shutdown.

House Small Business Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.) responded to the latest error on Tuesday, writing that, “sadly, today’s enrollment-day glitches aren’t a surprise to me and most Americans. How can small businesses plan for the future when they don’t have faith that the infrastructure will even work?”

In an earlier statement, he argued that “the law is bad for everyone, but its delays, false-starts and misinformation are leading to even more confusion and uncertainty for small businesses.”

The law’s supporters have pushed back against the criticism, arguing that minor setbacks and computer glitches are to be expected given the size and scope of the technology required to support the new exchanges.

“In the first week, first month, first three months, I would suspect that there will be glitches,” President Obama told NPR on Monday. “This is 50 states, a lot of people signing up for something. And there are going to be problems.”

Follow J.D. Harrison and On Small Business on Twitter.

J.D. Harrison covers startups, small business and entrepreneurship, with a focus on public policy, and he runs the On Small Business blog.
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