Latest Obamacare Delay Means Small Businesses Will Have to Wait. Again.
The beleaguered and defeated Obamacare has taken another punch, and Main Street is feeling the pain.
Just as most of the country was heading full throttle toward the tryptophan-induced haze that is Thanksgiving, the White House announced yet another delay in the rollout of Obamacare – one that affects small businesses.
Burying the news at the bottom of a blog post published the day before Thanksgiving, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services stated that the online marketplaces for small-business owners are expected to come online in November 2014.
That’s a year later than expected. A year later than the already pushed back deadline.
The online marketplace for small-business owners, called the Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP, is intended to provide companies with fewer than 50 full-time employees to compare insurance options and register for coverage for themselves and their employees on the Internet.
The SHOP online marketplace was initially due to open in October. Then, in September, the White House pushed the deadline back another month, scheduling the launch for Nov. 1, leaving only three months for small business owners to be set up and ready for the launch on Jan. 1. Now, that deadline has been delayed by a full year.
The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare as it has come to be called, does not require businesses with fewer than 50 full-time workers to provide health insurance to their workers. Those small businesses that do wish to shop for coverage through the SHOP marketplaces can still do so before November 2014, albeit not online. Instead, they will have to work directly with an agent, broker, or insurer to sign up manually.
“This process, called ‘direct enrollment,’ is similar to how most small employers get insurance today,” the HHS blog post said. In other words, not much is going to change from how it already looks for small-business owners looking to work with a professional to buy insurance.
The delay in the online marketplace, however, provided yet another opportunity for already fuming Republicans to lay a few targeted jabs at the White House.
"Once again, President Obama has unilaterally delayed another major portion of Obamacare, and once again, he has tried to bury bad news around a holiday hoping nobody will notice. These are hardly the actions of a transparent administration,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R, Va.) in a written statement.
The Obama administration’s approval rating has been at historic lows as of late, and the blundered rollout of HealthCare.gov has been much to blame. “If small firms failed to provide services this frequently, they would be fired,” said House Small Business Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R, Mo.). “This pattern of continued delay and disarray is especially disappointing. This mismanagement and inadequacy is causing the American people and small business owners to lose trust in their government’s ability to do just about anything.”
Business owners like to plan. And the repeated deadline changes are leaving business owners unable to get their bearings for the coming year.
“The Obama Administration continues to make it incredibly difficult for small businesses to adequately plan and prepare when they continue to move the goal post,” says Katie Vlietstra, director of government affairs for The National Association for the Self-Employed in a written statement. “We are disappointed to say the least.”
The announcement of the delay in the online SHOP was made as the White House was sweating to make its own, self-imposed Nov. 30 deadline for righting the broken online portal for individuals to sign up for health insurance. Since the White House is in the business of setting and breaking its own deadlines these days, even the President didn’t seem convinced that his administration would make its very own Nov. 30 deadline.
“I think it is not possible for me to guarantee that 100 percent of the people 100 percent of the time going on this website will have a perfectly seamless, smooth experience,” said Obama earlier this month. “We’re going to have to continue to improve it even after November 30th, December 1st.”
Catherine Clifford is senior entrepreneurship writer at CNBC. She was formerly a senior writer at Entrepreneur.com, the small business reporter at CNNMoney and an assistant in the New York bureau for CNN. Clifford attended Columbia University where she earned a bachelor's degree. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. You can follow her on Twitter at @CatClifford.