WASHINGTON — Small businesses may not have an insurance market set up specifically for them when the state and federal health exchanges begin in January, government officials said Monday.
Instead, the federal government announced that the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) will be delayed until 2015. Small-business employees will still be able to get insurance, but the states have the option to limit that to one choice, rather than a variety of plans, for the first year.
“For transitional purposes we have proposed that in 2014, a SHOP may elect to have businesses choose one plan to offer employees, and in 2015 employees will be able to choose from the full range of plans in the Marketplace,” Health and Human Services said in a statement.
The public had until Monday to offer comments on the delay.
John Arensmeyer, CEO of the Small Business Majority, an non-profit advocacy group, said insurers have said they did not have enough time to come up with insurance plans that met the federal standards.
“We’re disappointed they chose to delay these particular features,” he said. “I think there’s a reason behind it, but it’s outweighed by tremendous benefits.” More choice in health plans would allow employers to negotiate better rates.
However, most states will go ahead with plans to try to offer more choices in spite of having the option to delay, he said.
“Once people understand what is in the law, they like it,” he said. “The problem is this is one of the things they like.”
The Chamber of Commerce issued a statement saying that, by delaying the provision, small-business insurance through the health exchange “will be of little or no value to employers, or by extension, their employees.”
“We believe that as employers assess whether or not to offer coverage to their employees, the more flexibility that they have in deciding how and what to offer, within the confines of the law, the more likely employers will continue to offer health care coverage,” the statement read.
Larry Leavitt, a healthcare policy expert with the Kaiser Family Foundation, said most small businesses offer only one plan now, “so it will be status quo.”
“There are a lot of technical issues in trying to offer this kind of choice,” he said. “It’s not an easy job.”