Missouri, Illinois small business health exchanges open up

The online health insurance marketplaces for small businesses in Missouri and Illinois went live Friday morning, although in a limited capacity.

The two states were among five to get early access to theSmall Business Health Options Program, or SHOP, website before open enrollment begins on Nov. 15.

The early access period allows employers to create accounts, connect with brokers and upload an employee roster. Employers still won’t be able to purchase or see what plans will even be offered until November. And the site for workers to view their employer’s offerings is still not operational.

SHOP plans were available last year but only by paper applications after federal health officials delayed the website’s launch to prioritize fixes to the individual marketplace. This year marks the debut of the online SHOP portal, which is operated through HealthCare.gov.

Delaware, Ohio and New Jersey were also granted early access to the marketplace. Federal health officials say the early access period will allow them to get valuable feedback on the site’s operations before plans are sold.

The SHOP exchange, created by the Affordable Care Act, is designed to allow employers with less than 50 full-time workers to compare competing plans. The company could then offer its employees a choice from among several policies.

Businesses with fewer than 25 full-time workers can also qualify for a substantial tax credit if their employees enroll in SHOP plans.

Before Friday’s launch, employers were already able to use HealthCare.gov to determine whether they qualified for the tax credit.

Unlike individual marketplace coverage, SHOP plans can also be purchased at any point during the year.

Also on Friday, the White House hosted a meeting of brokers to discuss the SHOP marketplace. Emily Bremer, an area broker and president of the Missouri Association of Health Underwriters, attended the briefing.

Bremer said the briefing would be a good opportunity for federal health officials to understand how businesses could use SHOP.

“What I am hoping to get out of it is to help them understand the role of the broker and agent and what employers face in the state of Missouri,” she said in a phone interview.

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Source: STL Post Dispatch