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Obama’s Health Law Markets Face Delay for Small Business

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Sept. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Small businesses won’t be able to enroll in new online health insurance marketplaces until Nov. 1 in most U.S. states, the latest delay for the Obama administration’s signature health-care law.

Small businesses won’t be able to sign up their employees for coverage until November in 36 states where the federal government is running insurance exchanges, said Joanne Peters, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Businesses can shop for coverage on the government’s websites beginning Oct. 1, the original date the marketplaces were scheduled to open, the agency said in a statement.

Insurance marketplaces for individuals “will still open on time on Oct. 1 with full online enrollment and plan shopping options,” Peters said.

The exchanges for small businesses, available for companies with 50 or fewer full-time workers, were something of an afterthought when Congress passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010. The administration had already said April 1 that workers at these companies won’t immediately be able to pick any health plan they want as the law intended, and instead will have to sign up for a plan selected by their employers.

The administration said July 2 that companies employing 50 or more workers won’t face fines for not providing health insurance until 2015, delaying a major provision of the law.

Early Word

Officials at HHS called groups representing small businesses today to alert them to the one-month delay of the exchange’s functions.

“As with any major changes, there’s going to be some hiccups on the way,” said Joshua Welter, a spokesman for the Main Street Alliance, a group that represents 15,000 small businesses and has backed the health law. He said he received a call from HHS officials about the delay.

Coverage under exchange plans doesn’t begin until Jan. 1, giving the government time to sort out problems when enrollment begins next week. Unlike individuals who have an open enrollment period just once a year, small businesses using the health exchanges can enroll on a monthly basis throughout the year, the department said in its statement.

Administration officials have downplayed expectations for early enrollment under the health law and cautioned that glitches are expected in the complex system of websites and call centers.

“This will entail the mother of all growing pains,” Neil Trautwein, a vice president at the National Retail Federation in Washington, a trade group for retailers, said today in a phone interview.

To contact the reporters on this story: Mike Dorning in Washington at mdorning@bloomberg.net; Alex Wayne in Washington at awayne3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net

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