If you haven’t already heard, the most important component of the Small Health Business Options Program, or SHOP exchanges, has been delayed on the federal marketplaces until at least 2015. The lack of employee choice on these exchanges is a big let-down for small businesses. We talk with Josie Martinez, senior partner/general counsel of EBS Capstone a few questions about the impact the delay of will have on small business owners and their employees in the 33 applicable states.

Thom:  Where does the Obama administration stand today regarding health care reform?

Josie: Delay, delay, delay … That seems to be the recurring theme these days with respect to health care reform. For example, the Obama administration recently announced it will not be able to meet the 2014 deadline it previously established, which was going to allow small businesses and business owners the ability and flexibility to offer their employees a myriad of health care plans from which to choose at the state and federal exchanges. While small business are not required to offer health benefits to their employees, employers with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees must do so commencing in 2015. 

Thom: What exactly does the delay in the full implementation of the SHOP exchanges mean for small business owners and their employees?

Josie: Implicit in the SHOP title is the word “options,” indicating that employees of small businesses will have a variety of options for health plans. This is no longer the case, as such choices will be delayed until 2015 due to what the Obama administration is calling “operational challenges.” The reality is, this will mean just one option for employees of small businesses, and most likely continued increased premium costs for small business owners. Keep in mind these exchanges were at the crux of health care reform — a key component that garnered the support of many who were fighting on behalf of small businesses. 

Thom. How will this delay impact the state exchanges across the country?

Josie: Traditionally, small businesses were generally at a disadvantage when it came to benefit options — less choices, more administrative impediments, higher costs, etc. One of the ideas behind this initiative was to lower insurance premiums for this class of businesses and employers. The delay will now have widespread effect on about 30 states, which have opted to have the federal government (either alone or in partnership with them) operate their exchanges. Query what the other states that are handling their own exchanges will do — move forward as intended, or delay their efforts as well? Will small business bail on the idea altogether and just send their employees to the exchanges? 

 Mangan blogs for HIX News, a SourceMedia publication. He is also an Employee Benefit Adviser  Advisory Board member and CEO of United Benefit Advisors, an independent employee benefits advisory organization with more than 270 offices throughout the U.S., Canada and the U.K.

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