Holiday news dump: WH to delay online ObamaCare exchange for small businesses for one year

A little something new to introduce into the dinner conversation tomorrow if/when one of your guests starts reciting OFA talking points. You might want to start making a list of your own, frankly. There’s a lot to talk about.

Gabe Malor notes that this will, conveniently, move the debut of the SHOP exchange until after the 2014 midterms, just in case they still don’t have their act together technologically a year from now.

Small businesses have been able to apply through paper applications since Oct. 1, and HHS will announce alternative sign-up methods, like enrolling through an agent or broker or directly through an insurer.

“We’ve concluded that we can best serve small employers by continuing this offline process while we concentrate on both creating a smoothly functioning online experience in the SHOP Marketplace, and adding key new features, including an employee choice option and premium aggregation services, by November 2014,” according to the HHS notice.

It’s not clear to me whether they gave up on SHOP because they couldn’t figure out how to build it or because they’re too busy trying to figure out how to build to try. Been a long time coming, though: WaPo notes that this is the third delay to the small-business exchange in seven months. After reading this recent NYT piece, I was under the impression that most or all of the unbuilt parts of the ObamaCare exchange were postponed by HHS in the last few weeks before launch as a matter of triage, so that they could devote themselves fully to repairing the individual exchange. Nope: Per WaPo, the feds announced in April that they wouldn’t be rolling out the “consumer choice” feature on the small-business exchange until 2015. (That would have allowed employees of small businesses to compare and purchase plans being offered by their employers online.) Then, in late September, they announced that the entire exchange would be delayed until this month. In hindsight, that was a blaring siren that they were already in triage mode on shortly before launch. Now it’s almost December and a decision had to be made: Result: See you in December 2014.

Question: Is there any reason apart from the political one flagged by Gabe to delay SHOP for a full year? At first I thought maybe they’d concluded that they can’t possibly build the small-business exchange before the March 31st deadline for enrollment, in which case why bother trying? But that logic doesn’t work. Enrollment on the small-business exchange is year-round; there’s no March 31st deadline, so even if the site wasn’t ready until June or July, it’d still be useful to some businesses. Something like 80 million employees are going to find their plans canceled sooner rather than later and it’d be nice to have SHOP available when they do, since they’re not all headed to the individual exchange. Or are they?

Speaking of the individual exchange, here’s Democrat Jimmy Williams regaling the MSNBC audience with his experience shopping for insurance on Consider it a status report on the triage effort.

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