O-Care enrollment lags for small businesses

Enrollment for small businesses under ObamaCare is falling short of the government’s expectations, according to a federal audit to be announced Thursday.  

About 76,000 people have enrolled in the state-run exchanges, a dismal total that nearly guarantees that the Obama administration will miss its target for small businesses, according to a report by the nonpartisan General Accountability Office (GAO) provided early to The Hill.

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The report confirms fears of many Democrats, who have acknowledged that last year’s botched launch would keep people from signing up. The bad news also provides new fuel for Republicans intent on dismantling ObamaCare in the GOP-controlled Congress.

The House Republican who requested the report said Thursday that the data demonstrates the law’s failure for small-business owners and workers.

“It is apparent that the Obama Administration didn’t prioritize the SHOP exchange in the law. Small businesses and taxpayers deserve better,” Rep. Sam GravesSam Graves19 pledged Missouri delegates go to Trump House GOPer eyes McCaskill challenge 5B highway bill limits teen truckers MORE (R-Mo.), chairman of the House Small Business Committee, wrote in a statement.

The latest numbers do not include workers signed up through federal exchanges, which relied on paper applications as the website struggled to function. Officials say they are still tallying the numbers, but GAO reported that officials “do not have reason to expect major differences in enrollment trends” between the state and federal exchanges.

The government had expected 2 million workers to enroll nationwide, which would mean at least 40,000 sign-ups in each state, according to a 2014 report by the Congressional Budget Office.

But the GAO found that the average enrollment was fewer than 5,000 people in the 16 states that reported data.

In Mississippi, only one person signed up.

The blame is largely on malfunctioning websites, delayed implementation and “misconceptions” by employees who didn’t understand the exchanges, the GAO says.

Some businesses and government officials are optimistic about higher enrollment in the future, but the GAO concluded it was too early to determine “the long-term viability” of the exchanges.

The Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) is one of two new exchanges created under ObamaCare. It has largely been overshadowed by the individual marketplace, which enrolled 7.1 million paying customers last year.

Earlier this week, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) lowered enrollment estimates for the individual marketplace, as well, though it has shored up the technical side of HealthCare.gov

The federal government has already tried to make this year easier for small businesses, quietly rolling out the exchange in a handful of states for tests. Last year, it couldn't roll out a website at all for small businesses, relying instead of paper applications.