Soft launch planned for O-Care's business exchange

Federal health officials are planning to give small businesses in select states an early chance to try ObamaCare's delayed health insurance exchange for their employees.

The soft launch will begin in five states in late October as the Obama administration works to avoid another disaster in the healthcare law's second enrollment period.

The goal is to fix any problems encountered by users in Delaware, Illinois, Ohio, Missouri and New Jersey prior to Nov. 15, when the SHOP system (Small Business Health Options Program) will go live for all states that elected not to construct their own exchanges.

"We are focused on implementing the federally facilitated SHOP marketplace in a way that best serves the interests of small employers and their employees by utilizing the lessons of the first year," said Ben Wakana, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

"This includes providing FF-SHOP early access in a few states before fully launching online functionality on November 15, 2014," Wakana added.

In the trial run, first reported by The Washington Post, small employers will be able to create accounts, select a broker, verify their eligibility and upload a roster of their workers.

All participating businesses will have to wait until November, however, to begin shopping for plans and comparing prices.

The federal online SHOP exchange was supposed to launch last year but was delayed as the HHS struggled to complete the mountain of tasks related to ObamaCare's first enrollment period.

The system is designed to promote comparison shopping for small-business healthcare plans and to connect employers with tax credits to make coverage more affordable.