Soft Launch of SHOP Exchange Will Give Five States Early Access

In late October, small employers in Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, Delaware, and New Jersey, as well as agents and brokers in those states, will get the first shot at the process for evaluating health insurance plans in the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) Exchange, three weeks before the Exchange becomes available to the rest of the country, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Employers will be able to establish accounts on the SHOP Exchange, assign a broker to their account, upload a roster of employees, and verify eligibility before the open enrollment period begins November 15, 2014.

Increasing access for small businesses

SHOP Exchanges are intended to increase access to health insurance for owners and employees of small businesses with 50 or fewer full-time equivalent employees. These small businesses are not required to provide health coverage for their employees under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148). Small businesses with fewer than 25 employees making an average of less than $50,000 are also eligible for tax credits of up to 50 percent of their premium contributions if they purchase coverage for their employees through the Exchange.

Avoiding major setbacks

The soft launch of the SHOP Exchange is intended to test the functionality of the systems and gain feedback from users before the open enrollment period begins. HHS hopes to avoid the kind of major setbacks experienced during the launch of HealthCare.gov. In most states, small business were not able to purchase coverage through the Exchange during the first open enrollment period.

“We are focused on implementing the FF-SHOP [Federally-facilitated SHOP] Marketplace in a way that best serves the interests of small employers and their employees by utilizing the lessons of the first year of Federally-facilitated Marketplace implementation,” an HHS spokesman told the Washington Post. “This includes providing FF-SHOP Early Access in a few states before fully launching online functionality.”