White House delays ObamaCare enrollment for small businesses

The Obama administration is delaying ObamaCare enrollment for small businesses and Spanish speakers.

Small businesses will not be able to buy health insurance through new online marketplaces when they launch next week, the Health and Human Services Department said.

Republicans seized on the delay to argue that the healthcare law is destined to fail.

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"It is obvious that the administration is just as unprepared for Obamacare’s Oct. 1st start date as the rest of the country," Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said in a statement.

HHS said the new marketplaces for small businesses, known as SHOP exchanges, will open on Oct. 1 for employers to review their options. But employers won't be able to sign up online until November.

Employers will still be able to sign up by mail or fax beginning Oct. 1. And online applications would be available in November, HHS said, so employers' coverage can still take effect as scheduled at the beginning of next year.

President Obama and members of the administration have long said they expect delays and "glitches" as the exchanges come online — and Obama reiterated that point in a speech that ended just before news of the latest delays broke.

White House press secretary Jay Carney dismissed concerns over the small business delay, saying that "what is absolutely true is that on Oct. 1, everyone will be able to enroll one way or another."

Carney also noted that unlike with individual enrollees, who must register within the first six months, small businesses could buy into the exchanges at any time.

"The small business program is forever open," Carney said.

But Republicans said the evidence is mounting that ObamaCare isn't ready for prime time.

“Unbelievable, did anyone tell the president that his administration is delaying another piece of ObamaCare before he tried swindling the American people again?" Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement. "It’s clear all Americans deserve a delay from this trainwreck, maybe even more Democrats will get on board with Republican efforts now.”

The Spanish-language version of healthcare.gov, the federal portal for ObamaCare enrollment, also would not be able to process applications when it launches next week, according to The Associated Press.

Enrolling Latinos is a key goal for the White House. The administration and its allies have focused their outreach campaign primarily on states with large Hispanic populations and large numbers of uninsured people, including Texas, Florida and California.

Carney said Spanish speakers will be available by telephone to walk enrollees through the registration process. He also said 70 percent of Hispanic Americans will be accessing the registration through the English language portal.

Thursday's setbacks are the latest in a series of technical glitches ahead of the Oct. 1 launch date for new insurance marketplaces, also known as exchanges.

Oregon has said its exchanges would not be open to the public, but only to brokers and "navigators" who help people shop for coverage, when it launches next week.

Washington, D.C., said Wednesday that its exchange would not be able to calculate the cost of insurance plans until November. Washington's exchange isn't yet ready to calculate eligibility for Medicaid or tax subsidies to help people buy private insurance.

And Thursday's delay isn't the first setback for small businesses. Earlier, the administration announced a one-year delay in a provision allowing small businesses to give their employees a choice of multiple plans. Businesses will only be able to offer one plan until 2015.

The administration has also delayed the mandate requiring large employers to offer healthcare to their workers or pay a penalty.

— Justin Sink contributed

— This story was first posted at 12:18 p.m. and has been updated.