If you have been counting on the new health-insurance exchanges where you can shop for plans for your small business, you may have wait longer than you thought.
The health-care exchanges were supposed to be functional by October, but there is a chance that deadline will be missed, according to a report today from the Government Accountability Office, Congress's watchdog.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has given conditional approval to 18 states to run their own Small-Business Health Options Programs (SHOPs) and to another 17 to run their own insurance exchanges for individuals. While progress has been made, "many activities remain to be completed and some were behind schedule," the report says.
"This GAO report confirms our suspicions about the implementation of the health-care law," said House Small Business Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R, Mo.) in a statement. "The law is indeed a train wreck with no relief in sight."
The insurance exchanges are behind schedule in areas including enrollment, plan management and consumer assistance. In particular, the program to educate small-business owners and their employees and help them enroll in the health-insurance exchanges is approximately two months behind the deadlines the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services laid out, the report says. Of the tasks expected to be completed by March 31, 44 percent were behind schedule, the report says. The report notes that CMS says it has been changing its target deadlines and so certain delays may not affect the implementation of the exchanges.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Joanne Peters says it will meet health-insurance exchange deadlines. "We have already met key milestones and are on track to open the Marketplace on time," Peters says in an email. For example, it has published a streamlined application for the exchanges and is in the final stages of testing the technological infrastructure necessary to support the enrollment process.
This is not the first delay for the health-insurance exchanges. In April, the Obama Administration requested that states be given more time to set up multiple options for health-insurance coverage, effectively pushing deadlines back by one year. In 2014, states would be required to have only a single health-insurance option ready on the SHOPs.
The health-care overhaul passed by President Obama three years ago requires that each state which elects to operate its own health exchange must also offer a SHOP. An exchange is a marketplace where, eventually, individuals and business owners will be able to compare, select and purchase health insurance. The SHOPs are where small-business owners specifically can find insurance options for their employees. Should a state decline the option to run its own health-insurance exchange, the U.S. would step in and establish the exchange in that state.
Related: The Basics of Obamacare