SHOP development on track, except for…

Producers worried over a commercial exchange rollout similar to last year’s mess can rest easy—unless they’re relying on this function.

SHOP development on track, except for…



The flawed rollout of and other state-led health insurance exchanges marred producer profitability last October, so it’s hard to fault benefits brokers for feeling a bit jumpy over November’s launch of the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP).

Six months out, however, all signs from the Department of Health and Human Services suggest producers can expect a fully functioning online marketplace. The only fly in the ointment is another delay—this time affecting state exchanges.

According to a Washington Post report, the HHS has again put off a requirement that states allow small business to offer employees a choice of multiple plans through SHOP. That feature was originally intended to spark competition among insurers, consequently lowering rates in the future.

Now, state insurance commissioners may permit states to “opt out” of that employer choice feature. John Arensmeyer, chief executive of the lobbying group Small Business Majority, expressed frustration at the delay, claiming it will lead insurers to raise rates in 2015.

“[It’s a] major letdown for small business owners and their employees,” Arensmeyer told the Washington Post.

Indeed, the delay means health insurance carriers must wait another year to ascertain whether the commercial exchanges are making rates more affordable. And for producers, it means fewer choices in advising small business owners in how to best provide for their employees.

The commercial health exchange, designed specifically to help small employers rein in growing health costs, was originally meant to roll out alongside the individual marketplaces. An extension from the Department of Health and Human Services, however, forestalled the program for more than a year.

HHS memos reveal the program appears to be on track, with the department scheduled to start working with participating carriers in June. July will bring tests of the federal and state marketplaces to ensure all sites are linked up to the required federal data centers, and in October, the HHS has planned a “soft launch” of SHOP in a few undetermined states.

SHOP is slated to go live November 15 in all states using the federal health exchange.

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