By Jonathan Easley - 11/27/13 02:49 PM EST
The White House is delaying the launch of its online small-business exchange by one year, a Health and Human Services (HHS) official confirmed to The Hill on Wednesday.
The delay is another setback for the troubled enrollment process of President Obama's signature healthcare law.
Companies with fewer than 50 employees were slated to begin buying coverage through the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP), an online ObamaCare exchange, this month. The exchange’s delay means small businesses will instead have to seek out coverage through an agent or broker.
On a conference call with reporters, Centers for Medicaid and Medicare spokeswoman Julie Bataille said the delay was the result of the administration concentrating its focus and energy on getting the online exchange for individuals up and running by Nov. 30.
Bataille argued that since many small businesses already go through agents and brokers, the disruption would be small because employers are already familiar with the process. She also said employers would be able to determine their eligibility for tax credits, a key feature of the federal exchange, through the workaround.
But Republicans seized on the announcement as yet another example that the healthcare law is doomed to fail.
“Once again, President Obama has unilaterally delayed another major portion of ObamaCare, and once again, he has tried to bury bad news around a holiday hoping nobody will notice,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said in a statement.
“The president's latest one-year delay is another sign that ObamaCare's issues run much deeper than a failing website,” he added. “The delay is also a reminder of the terrible harm ObamaCare will inflict on small businesses, costing jobs and economic growth. The president has fought bipartisan efforts to give middle class families and individuals a similar one-year delay from the debacle of ObamaCare. It's time all Americans are protected from the harm caused by ObamaCare.”
It’s not the first delay for the SHOP exchange, which hasn’t received the attention of some other aspects of the law because of the problem-plagued individual exchanges.
The healthcare law establishes new insurance marketplaces, referred to as SHOP exchanges, where small businesses can compare and purchase insurance plans.
The healthcare law allows small businesses to either offer a single plan to all of their workers or pick a certain benefit level and let workers choose among plans at that level.
The HHS delayed the latter option earlier this year, saying it's too complicated for insurers to implement right away. Workers will still not be able to choose from an employer-approved benefit level of plans during the one-year delay.
The White House has instituted a handful of unilateral delays.
The Spanish-language version of the website will not be ready by the end of the month either, despite assurances to the contrary. And the White House has on a number of occasions moved back deadlines associated with individual enrollment.
The administration has said the HealthCare.Gov website will be running smoothly for most users by Nov. 30, but is also warning that a rush of consumers to the website could continue to cause system failures.
This story was updated at 2:49 p.m.