WASHINGTON - Small businesses seeking to buy health insurance under President Barack Obama's health care law will have to wait a couple of months before they can complete the process online, administration officials said Thursday in the latest delay of the high-stakes rollout.
New online health insurance markets created by the law for individuals and small businesses are scheduled to open Tuesday. Small- business owners will be able to go online, compare their options and start an application, but they won't be able to finalize it until sometime in November. That would still allow the firms to get coverage for their employees by Jan. 1.
"We wanted to make sure this was going to work properly and be effective for small businesses," Gary Cohen, the Health and Human Services Department official overseeing the rollout, said in an interview. "We just felt like taking the additional time to make sure everything was functioning the way we wanted was the right thing to do."
Delays and pared-back expectations are a standard feature of most big technology rollouts. Although the Obama administration has tried to project an image of efficiency, the small business delay was the second announced in as many days.
On Wednesday, the administration told Hispanic groups that the Spanish-language version of the healthcare.gov website will not be ready to handle enrollments for a few weeks. An estimated 10 million Latinos are eligible for coverage, and 4 million of them speak Spanish primarily.
Cohen said no further delays are anticipated. "The individual market will open on time Oct. 1 with full online enrollment and plan shopping," he said.
Some states may still be able to launch fully functional small business markets Oct 1. The delay applies to 36 states where the federal government is taking the lead in building the insurance markets.
Obama's health care law created small business markets known as SHOP exchanges for companies with up to 100 employees to buy coverage from a range of competitive plans. Small firms with low-wage workers can also apply for tax credits to help make the coverage more affordable.
Under the law, most small businesses do not have to provide coverage. But firms with 50 or more employees face a mandate to offer insurance or risk fines from the government. That mandate was supposed to take effect Jan. 1, but the administration earlier delayed it by a year to address employer complaints about overly complicated paperwork.