California launches small biz exchange

The state of California launched its online small-business exchange on Monday, just one week after the Health and Human Services (HHS) Department announced it would delay the federal small-business exchange for a full year.

“Small businesses now have new options to provide more choice for their employees and new affordable options for their businesses,” Peter Lee, the executive director of the California exchange, said in a statement.

“Covered California has created the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) to help small business owners to get the best value for themselves and their employees.”

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The healthcare law establishes new insurance marketplaces, referred to as SHOP exchanges, where small businesses can compare and purchase insurance plans online.

Companies with fewer than 50 employees were slated to begin buying coverage through the federal SHOP program this month. The exchange’s delay means small businesses in states where the feds are running the exchanges would instead have to seek out coverage through an agent or broker, where it might be more difficult to determine eligibility for tax credits.

It’s the latest example of how the 14 state-run exchanges, with a few exceptions, are outpacing the 36 federally run exchanges in the rollout of the healthcare law.

The state markets have largely avoided the problems facing the federally run exchanges, and have emerged as a bright spot for the administration during the chaotic first two months of the ObamaCare launch.

About 75 percent of the 106,000 total enrollees from October were in the 12 states running their own markets. An additional two states, plus the District of Columbia, didn’t report statistics.

More than one-third of those came from California, where the push to enroll the uninsured has made the state a model of success that the feds and other states hope can be replicated.

Last month, Covered California said that nearly 50,000 people had picked out a private health plan under ObamaCare during the first 19 days of November, nearly doubling its October total of 31,000.

In addition, the exchange touted a high number of individuals who have filled out applications but not yet selected a healthcare plan. Covered California said it received more than 10,000 completed applications a day during one week in November, topping out with a high of 71,888.