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Since yesterday, some of the business journals have announced that there are new delays in the rollout of the health exchanges, and we would like to dispel that myth now.  Please note that the SHOPs are opening as planned.  Health coverage will take effect January 1, 2014, assuming your enrollment is completed by mid-December.  The enrollment process – and the kick-off dates for online applications versus paper forms – may vary state by state depending on where you are located.  This has caused some confusion which the Administration attempted to clarify yesterday.

On September 26, 2013, the US. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released updates regarding next week’s launch of the insurance exchanges (Marketplaces) for small business health options – called “SHOPs”.  Many states, particularly smaller states, have opted not to establish a state-run Marketplace or SHOP and instead a Federally-Facilitated Exchange will serve the state’s residents and small businesses.  You can check www.healthcare.gov to find the SHOP for your area.

For federally-facilitated SHOPs, HHS had hoped to offer a variety of enrollment methods starting October 1.  They’ve now decided that the online “live application” functionality will not be added until November.  During October, small business can start the process using paper forms by mail or fax.

Here is an excerpt from the HHS statement:

“Small employers can enroll in insurance plans through the SHOP on a monthly basis throughout the year. As such, some states are phasing in SHOP application and enrollment periods.  The SHOP Marketplace for Federally-facilitated Marketplace states opens Oct. 1, 2013, when small employers can start the application process and get an overview of available plans and premiums in their area. All functions for SHOP will be available in November and if employers and employees enroll by Dec. 15, 2013, coverage will begin Jan. 1, 2014. Detailed information on the SHOP application and enrollment process are available at HealthCare.gov.

“As part of the expanded education and outreach campaign, HHS will work with SBA to make additional resources available for small employers. Beginning Oct. 1, 2013 the dedicated SHOP small employer call center at 1-800-706-7893 will offer extended hours Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. EST. Employers may call the SHOP Small Employer call center for assistance when completing an application beginning October 1. This call center will also refer employers in states running their own SHOP Marketplace to the correct contact information for their state.”

Keep in mind that if you’re located in an area served by a state-run SHOP, such as California, New York, Massachusetts and several other large states, you’ll find information about health options and enrollment methods there.  You can go directly to your state’s SHOP or check www.healthcare.gov which will link you to the SHOP for your state.  Please work with your insurance broker to determine the best health insurance options for your employees and your business.