By Elise Viebeck - 06/10/14 03:33 PM EDT
The Obama administration is permitting more than a dozen states not to implement part of ObamaCare's small business health insurance exchange until at least 2016.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) granted requests for lenience from 18 states in their effort to enact "employee choice" on the Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP exchange.
The Affordable Care Act intended to allow customers on the SHOP exchange to pick from a variety of options, but the rollout of that feature has been delayed several times.
In the latest deferral, the administration allowed state insurance commissioners to request that the SHOP in their state not offer "employee choice" next year.
In response, state officials raised concerns that insurers would price policies higher in 2015 under "employee choice" due to worries about absorbing sick customers.
CMS did not deny any of the petitions, which were due on June 2.
The states that will not offer "employee choice" in 2015 are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia.
Republicans criticized the move and said the administration has not been transparent in its decision-making.
"Today's announcement from CMS is yet another in a long line of bad news and signs of poor management of SHOP," said House Small Business Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.).
"HHS and CMS haven't answered my inquiries regarding the development of SHOP and it appears that the dysfunction is worse than many of us thought."
This story was updated at 5:14 p.m.