After the Obama administration announced last week that small business access to the online health insurance marketplaces has been delayed for a year, there finally is a bit of good news on health care reform. Most people seem to be successfully navigating healthcare.gov to shop for health coverage, though finalizing the insurance sign-up process is still not working as intended. While many aspects of the Affordable Care Act already are benefiting families, the administration has to remain focused on continuing to improve the website and resell it to the American people who have lost confidence in the president and his signature achievement.
The Obama administration says it has made good on a promise to fix the website by the end of November for the vast majority of users. The focus has been to address the frustrating experience of consumers who were greeted with locked screens and Web pages that refused to load. But left to be fixed are the back-end systems that are supposed to provide insurance companies with consumer information. Until that is cleaned up, consumers might not be certain that their enrollment is complete.
Meanwhile, the administration handed small businesses disappointing news. Those with up to 50 employees had been promised the convenience of buying health insurance on the federal online marketplaces. Now that won't be happening until November 2014 for coverage that takes effect in January 2015. Small business employers will still have access to the same insurance policies at the same rates as would have been available online. They will just have to use insurance agents or brokers, as many already do, to purchase their preferred plans.
Despite the website problems, other aspects of the law remain in effect. For instance, small businesses will still be able to enjoy substantial federal tax credits of up to 50 percent of premium costs if they have fewer than 25 full-time employees and meet other criteria. Available policies will offer comprehensive insurance, not the illusion of insurance. And insurers will have to spend at least 80 percent of premiums on the provision of care rather than marketing, profits and executive salaries, or the businesses will receive a rebate.
While the latest delay is embarrassing and politically damaging for Obama, it is not as significant as the one-year delay in requiring large employers to provide health insurance to their employees or pay a penalty. Small businesses with under 50 employees that fail to provide coverage face no penalties.
The administration's priority has been to fix the online marketplaces for consumers. It is no surprise that other parts of the law had to fall by the wayside for now. But this is the second delay in implementing an aspect of small business coverage. In April, the requirement that the small business exchange offers competing insurance plans to employees was delayed until 2015. These hiccups show that administration failed to prepare adequately to implement the law, not that a law to provide Americans with medical security is a mistake.