Blog »

+A -A
Amy Goldstein: HealthCare.gov’s insurance marketplace for small businesses gets off to a slow start December 1, 2014

A year after the Obama administration temporarily shelved an unfinished part of HealthCare.gov intended for small businesses, it has opened with reports of only modest technical flaws — but with doubts that it will soon benefit the millions of workers at little companies with inadequate health insurance or none at all.

Insurance brokers are, at times, having trouble getting into their accounts and, in scattered cases, are not showing up in the computer system’s lists of local insurance professionals available to coach small businesses. More broadly, interviews with brokers and others suggest that, in the two weeks since the marketplace’s health plans went on sale for 2015, interest within the niche they are intended to help seems scant.

During the first week, that part of HealthCare.gov drew 200,000 visits, compared with more than 1.5 million people who looked at the Web site’s health plans for individuals, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the branch of the Department of Health and Human Services overseeing the ­online insurance marketplaces. CMS officials would not provide figures on how many small businesses in that first week decided to offer workers coverage through the health plans created for them — or how many workers, in turn, have bought it.

But John Arensmeyer, chief executive of Small Business Majority, a group eager for this part of the marketplace to succeed, voiced a widespread view. “We are not expecting a massive surge,” he said.

The fate of the Small Business Health Options Program, known as SHOP, has attracted less attention than the part of HealthCare.gov designed for individuals who cannot get insurance through their jobs. But when Congress enacted the Affordable Care Act in 2010, the idea of providing a new breed of health plans to small companies was one pillar of the law’s strategy to usher in the largest expansion in health insurance the government had ever attempted.

Continued