Small business owners can now compare and buy suitable health packages for employees through the Small Business Health Options Program - SHOP. This was made mandatory by Affordable Car Act.
Earlier SHOP was available through paper applications through brokers and agents. Now small business owners can choose the package online on the federal website. Owners can enroll employees all year round.
John Rood, president of the Chicago-based Next Step Test Preparation, already provides his eight full-time employees with health insurance he purchased through an insurance broker. But he logged on to the government-sponsored website last weekend to check out the SHOP options.
"I haven't made the final decision to switch yet," he says. "I'm interested in seeing if there are better prices for similar levels of care."
With SHOP, businesses with 50 or fewer full-time employees can compare and purchase insurance plans. Employers with fewer than 25 employees are also eligible for a tax credit worth up to 50% of their premium contribution.
33 states are eligible for SHOP, and 17 other states have set up their own exchanges, which are linked to the federal website - HealthCare.gov. Though it is not mandatory, to offer health insurance to employees when they are less than 50.
"I think it's absolutely a cornerstone of being competitive as an employer," Rood says.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which oversees the SHOP marketplaces, do not have data regarding federal SHOP enrollment yet, Shelby Venson, a CMS communications officer said in an email. Enrollment for the 18 individually run SHOP exchanges were "significantly lower than expected" prior to the launch of the online marketplace, according to a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office earlier this month.
"My sense is that very few businesses know about the SHOP marketplace," says Erik Rettig, northeast outreach manager of the Small Business Majority, a national small business advocacy organization. "I think once businesses know about SHOP, they're going to be excited to jump on board and at least peruse their options."
The SHOP website was initiated early in 5 states in five states—Delaware, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey and Ohio— so that business owners could test the site. Rood tried logging on during this early access period but says he got an error message. But when he logged on again the day open enrollment for 2015 coverage began, he says it was "a fantastic experience with no hiccups or speed bumps."
Rood said he would wait and weigh his options along with his employees' feedback before deciding to enroll under the government marketplace. Employers will buy a package which affordable and at the same time suit the needs of employees too.
"Ultimately, business owners are practical," says Michaela Hahn Burriss, the Small Business Majority's Ohio outreach manager. "They do what makes the most sense for their businesses."
Reference: Teddy Nykiel