Floridas small businesses are running out of time if theyre expecting to enroll their employees in health insurance plans offered through the Obamacare Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP exchange.
The deadline to ensure coverage beginning 2014 is Dec. 15.
But, SHOP isnt working. At least, thats whats left to be assumed after two major delays and a refusal by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to answer enrollment questions.
SHOP is the other half of healthcare.gov, the same troubled website offering individuals and families access to various government-approved insurance plans.
It was announced only days before the healthcare.gov roll-out Oct. 1 that SHOP would be delayed for one month. Then, Nov. 1 came and went without SHOP opening for business despite the website saying the opposite.
Florida Watchdog contacted the HHS for an explanation but was told in an email that businesses are more than welcome to begin the enrollment process online -- even if they actually cant enroll.
The website allows Sunshine State employers with fewer than 50 employees to browse plans and prices available in different areas of the state. But to apply, an employer must fill out a paper application and mail it in.
Or, they can wait until November to handle the entire application process online.
But November is half gone, and Florida Watchdogs questions about enrollment numbers in Florida and nationwide were ignored.
The SHOP website instructions also state that companies that have applied should know if theyve been deemed eligible to participate in the program -- and possibly qualify for tax credits -- by mid-November.
Even in that best case scenario, small businesses must then select a plan, their employees have to decide on coverage options, employers have to review those options and submit the information in one application and pay the first months premium.
All online and all in less than a month.
If that seems unlikely, HHS press secretary Fabien Levy offered some additional assurance.
Small employers generally may start offering health insurance coverage to their employees through the SHOP Marketplace at any time during the year, he said.
In other words, when SHOP is ready, thats when employers can use it, whether its ready by Dec. 15 or not.
Contact William Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow Florida Watchdog on Twitter at @watchdogfla.