Obamacare Small Business Exchange Will Be Delayed A Year

Obamacare Small Business Exchange Will Be Delayed A Year

Small businesses won’t be able to buy health insurance via HealthCare.gov until next year, President Barack Obama’s administration announced Wednesday.

The delay in functionality for the so-called SHOP exchanges represents the latest setback in the Obama administration’s efforts to implement the three-year-old Affordable Care Act. The development also comes just days before HealthCare.gov, the online portal for individual and family health coverage in more than 30 states, is supposed to be working better after its troubled first two months.

Small businesses that want to utilize the federally run SHOP exchanges, and the tax credits worth up to half the cost of insurance that are available to some firms, will have to sign up through an insurance agent or broker or directly with a health insurance company, an administration official explained via email. In an attempt to mitigate the failure of the online application and enrollment process that was supposed to be in place, small businesses can submit their applications for tax credits whenever they file their taxes rather than in advance, the official wrote.

“This new delay announcement is a disappointment but not a surprise. Small businesses continue to be low on the priority list during the Obamacare implementation process,” Kevin Kuhlman, manager of legislative affairs at the National Federation of Independent Business, said in a written statement. “The continued delays add to uncertainty and contribute to the decision of many owners to take early renewals of their small-group plans.” The National Federation of Independent Business opposed the Affordable Care Act and was the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging its constitutionality, which the Supreme Court ultimately upheld.

The administration previously said online enrollment on the SHOP exchanges would be available by the end of this month, following earlier delays. Prior to Wednesday’s announcement that the administration would facilitate enrollment via insurers, agents and brokers, paper applications were the only means small companies could employ to utilize the SHOP exchanges. Maryland also delayed its state-run SHOP exchange, though other states’ exchanges are operational. The federal government is operating SHOP exchanges in more than 30 states, and the remainder are being run by states.

“Small businesses will able to enroll directly into a SHOP plan through an insurer, agent or broker, and get can certified for a tax credit after they enroll. We will also offer an improved comparison shopping feature online so small businesses can choose a plan before enrolling in one,” Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said during a conference call with reporters Wednesday.

Unlike the federal- and state-run health insurance exchanges for individuals and families that limit sign-up to a certain period during the year, the SHOP exchanges are supposed to allow companies to enroll workers at any time. Still, companies with current benefits that expire at the end of the year have until just Dec. 23 to choose a health plan that will be in effect on Jan. 1, the official wrote.

The delay of the SHOP exchanges is partly a byproduct of the administration’s scramble to get HealthCare.gov reliably working for individual consumers, Bataille indicated. “It was important for us to prioritize the functionality that would enable consumers, individually, to shop and enroll online in coverage,” she said.

Online enrollment won’t be possible on the SHOP exchanges until next year for benefits that will be available in 2015, the administration said.

Earlier this year, the administration delayed another key component of the SHOP exchanges. Under health care reform, small business employees were supposed to be able to choose among any of the plans available on the exchanges. For 2014, employers will select the coverage for all workers instead.

The Obamacare success stories you haven’t been hearing about

The Obamacare success stories you haven't been hearing about

SAN DIEGO, CA – Last summer Ellen Holzman and Meredith Vezina, a married gay couple in San Diego County, got kicked off their long-term Kaiser health plan, for which they’d been paying more than $1,300 a month. The cause wasn’t the Affordable Care Act, as far as they knew. They’d been living outside Kaiser’s service area, and the health plan had decided to tighten its rules.

That’s when they discovered the chilly hazards of dependence on the individual health insurance market. When they applied for a replacement policy with Anthem Blue Cross of California, Ellen, 59, disclosed that she might have carpal tunnel syndrome. She wasn’t sure–her condition was still being diagnosed by Kaiser when her coverage ended. But the possibility was enough to scare Anthem. “They said, ‘We will not insure you because you have a pre-existing condition,’” Holzman recalls.

But they were lucky, thanks to Obamacare. Through Covered California, the state’s individual insurance marketplace, they’ve found a plan through Sharp Healthcare that will cover them both for a total premium of $142 a month, after a government subsidy based on their income. They’ll have a higher deductible than Kaiser’s but lower co-pays. But their possible savings will be impressive.

More important than that was knowing that they couldn’t be turned down for coverage come Jan. 1. “We felt we didn’t have to panic, or worry,” Holzman says. “If not for the Affordable Care Act, our ability to get insurance would be very limited, if we could get it at all.”

Holzman and Vezina are exactly the type of people Obamacare is designed to help–indeed, rescue from the cold, hard world of individual health insurance of the past. That was a world where even an undiagnosed condition might render you uninsurable. Where your insurance could be canceled after you got sick or had an accident. Where your financial health was at risk as much as your physical well-being.

These are the stories you’re not hearing amid the pumped-up panic over canceled individual policies and premium shocks–many of which stories are certainly true, but the noise being made about them leads people to think they’re more common than they are.

We’ve compiled several alternative examples for this post. They’re anecdotes, sure, just like the anecdotes you’ve been seeing and reading about people learning they’ll be paying more for coverage next year.

The difference is that Americans learning that they’ll be eligible for coverage perhaps for the first time, or at sharply lower cost, are far more typical of the individual insurance market. Two-thirds of the 30 million Americans who will be eligible for individual coverage next year are uninsured today, whether because they can’t afford it now or because they’re barred by pre-existing condition limitations, which will no longer be legal. And more than three-quarters will be eligible for subsidies that will cut their premium costs and even co-pays and deductibles substantially.

Let’s hear from a few more of them.

David Shevlino, 51, is an artist in Delaware. Between the COBRA policy that extends the coverage his wife, Kathy, received at a former job and the bare-bones policy that covers himself and their 15-year-old son, they’ve been laying out $1,000 a month in premiums. Next year they’ll pay $650 a month, after the government subsidy, for a plan through Blue Cross of Delaware that covers the entire family and provides many services that have been excluded up to now.
That makes a big difference, especially for Kathy, who is still dealing with injuries she suffered in a cycling accident and that would have made her uninsurable once her COBRA ran out less than a year from now. “She had already been turned down by Aetna and Blue Cross, the very company that will now insure her,” Shevlino says. “This is a really significant thing–to me, the fact that insurance companies could turn you down didn’t make sense in terms of what healthcare is supposed to be for.”

And Judith Silverstein, 49, a Californian who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2007. Her family helps her pay the $750 monthly cost of her existing plan–which she only had because of federal law requiring that insurers who provide employer-based insurance continue to offer coverage if the employer goes out of business, as hers did. Next year she’ll get a subsidy that will get her a good “silver” level plan for $50.

For Silverstein that coverage is indispensable. Her case is relatively mild, but MS is a progressive condition that typically has made its sufferers pariahs of the individual insurance market in the past. “I researched the options,” she says. “Nobody’s going to sell you insurance in the individual market if you have MS.” But these customers can’t be excluded or saddled with big premium markups any more.

It’s not only recipients of subsidies who are benefiting. Jason Noble, 44, who has his own property management firm in Southern California, found a gold plan that will cover his wife and their three children–a daughter, 9, and 5-year-old twins–for a little less than $1,300 a month. That’s slightly more than they’d be paying next year for their existing Blue Shield plan, but the benefits are much greater, including pediatric dental coverage. Their family deductible will fall from $3,400 to zero. Last year, the family had a health scare that ran them $1,800 in out-of-pocket expenses; a similar event next year would cost them nothing. “It’s definitely a good deal,” Noble says.
it’s fair to observe that not all these people are enamored with their enrollment experience. Ellen Holzman found Covered California’s website “definitely clunky,” and she and Vezina are still awaiting enrollment documents from Sharp that they say are well overdue.

Brian Sheppard, 58, a self-employed Southern California attorney, says he spent five to seven hours on the website before determining that he could upgrade from the existing Kaiser plan covering him and his wife for an additional $100 a month, but with lower deductibles and prescription costs. He’s still waiting to hear whether he’ll be eligible for a subsidy that would slash his expenses significantly.

“I’m persistent, I’m a lawyer, and I found it very difficult to work through that system,” he says. But for him it was worth the effort. “In 2010, when people were being canceled because they got sick, there was all this outrage,” he observes. “People have forgotten that.”

The difficulties of the federal government’s healthcare.gov and some state enrollment websites are real, and have kept hundreds of thousands of Americans, even millions, from enrolling. But many of those who understand the benefits of the Affordable Care Act know that obsessing about the technical glitches is like mistaking the scoreboard for the game.

Political opportunists (like House Speaker John Boehner), exploit near-term difficulties to obscure the tangible benefits the Affordable Care Act will bring to tens of millions of their constituents. When they say “this law has to go,” as Boehner’s spokesman did this weekend, they’re talking about returning people to the era of exclusions for pre-existing conditions. To people learning they’re uninsurable because of injuries from accidents, or chronic diseases, or the sheer bloody-mindedness of insurance company bureaucrats.

Let’s hear Boehner and his people explain to Holzman and Vezina, the Shevlinos, the Nobles, the Sheppards, and Silverstein–and to 20-30 million other Americans like them who might be locked out of the individual insurance market without the law they ridicule as “Obamacare”–how they’d be better off that way.

John Cornyn, Texas Senator, Says Iran Deal Is Obamacare Distraction

John Cornyn, Texas Senator, Says Iran Deal Is Obamacare Distraction

WASHINGTON – It was predictable that GOP hawks like Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) wouldn’t love the historic deal the Obama administration reached with Iran on Saturday night.

But Texas Senator John Cornyn had a unique, if completely bizarre, take on the agreement:

Among the many politicians and journalists to counter Cornyn’s wacky assertion was David Plouffe, Senior Advisor to President Obama:

#OBAMACARE “Glitch” LMAO – Jon Stewart, Verizon, HHS brings in Verizon to help HealthCare.gov

#OBAMACARE "Glitch" LMAO - Jon Stewart, Verizon, HHS brings in Verizon to help HealthCare.gov

WASHINGTON — The international telecommunications company Verizon has been tasked with helping the government fix the federal health exchange, USA TODAY has learned.

Jon Stewart Delivers Blistering Takedown of Obamacare Rollout: Dems Can’t ‘Spin This Turd’

An informed source in the telecommunications industry said Verizon’s Enterprise Solutions division has been asked by the Department of Health and Human Services to improve the performance of the HealthCare.gov site, which is a key component of the Affordable Care Act. The source spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement had not been made official.

HHS office said Sunday the department would reach outside its government contractors to civilian companies that might be able to solve HealthCare.gov’s problems more quickly.

“Our team is bringing in some of the best and brightest from both inside and outside government to scrub in with the team and help improve HealthCare.gov,” an HHS blog post said on Sunday.

HHS did not respond to a request for confirmation about Verizon. The company also declined to comment.

It makes sense for HHS to seek Verizon’s help, said Aneesh Chopra, the Obama administration’s former chief technology officer and now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. “There is an existing ‘best and brightest’ available to call in,” Chopra said. “Verizon is one of those already under contract.”

The odds that the problem will be fixed are “50-50,” said Clark Kelso, California’s chief information officer under governors Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. “They’ve got a short window here to try to fix things,” Kelso said. “Simply throwing a lot of new programmers at something like this does not guarantee success.”

According to Verizon’s website, they “provide converged communications, information and entertainment services over America’s most advanced fiber-optic network, and deliver integrated business solutions to customers in more than 150 countries.” The company also works for HHS and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on other information technology contracts.

“They are people who already know the government process,” said Chopra, adding that he did not know the identities of the companies recruited for help.

Chopra said the government’s data hub seems to be working, and “these are known issues. There isn’t a tech expert with a Superman cape soaring in to fix this issue, nor is that needed.”

California’s health insurance exchange experienced many of the same early issues as the federal site, Kelso said.

“We’re starting to do the same thing the feds are where we’re taking the site down over the weekend,” Kelso said. “A common problem for government websites is that you typically underestimate what the load is going to be.”

But California also had bad code from the insurers, which led to people getting bad lists of available doctors in some of the new health plans.

“The result was you were getting bad information about whether your doctor was part of your plan,” Kelso said. “So they deactivated that portion.”

The federal site, Kelso said, seems to have communications issues between the states and insurers.

To a user, it can look like the system is not processing my information; it’d be like Amazon never confirming a payment you’ve made, he said.

Michael Crandell, CEO of RightScale, which helps larger organizations on cloud computing projects, said the site’s problems may taint perceptions about the law and its performance.

“This kind of problem has been around since the earliest days of the Internet,” Crandell said. “Sites getting so much response that they stop working. We call that a ‘success disaster.’ I’m sure they will fix it. What is worrying is that problems with this site a being extrapolated to suggest problems with the actual law. As we know from experience, website performance is the public face that many projects and companies show to the world.”

Chopra said many website launches, including from civilians, tend to have glitches. He cited the United/Continental airlines merger — where the website had issues merging the two companies’ websites for at least a month — as an example.

“I hope this will be a footnote in the Affordable Care Act’s effect on the health care of the American people,” Chopra said.

Why isn’t Healthcare.gov working?
“The B.S. of A.” has an idea

Wall Street Isn’t Buying Obama’s Doomsday Scenario

#WallStreet, #MainStreet, Corporate Misconduct, 99%sDeclaration, Financial Reform, Occupy Wall Street, Zuccotti Park, Unemployment, #Occupywallstreet, Occupy Wall Street Movement, Occupy Wall Street Protests, Politics News,Barack Obama , Government Shutdown, Debt Ceiling, Barack Obama , Video, Affordable Care Act, HuffPolitics Blog, Obama CNBC Interview, Obama Wall Street, Politics News, Congress Government Shutdown, Continuing Resolution, Government Shutdown 2013, Government Shuts Down, Obama Cnbc, Obama Government Shutdown, Obamacare, Wall Street Government Shutdown, Politics News

Markets sold off sharply yesterday as the rhetoric surrounding the looming debt ceiling escalated. The S&P500 (^GSPC) dropped 1.2% to 1,655; the lowest close in more than month. Despite the worst single day drop since the current sell-off began, most traders remain skeptical that the similar debacle in summer of 2011 will play out. Traders and investors who ran for the exits when the S&P 500 dropped 18% over three harrowing weeks in late June and early July of 2011 missed a huge subsequent rally. It was a hard lesson, still fresh in the mind of investors. If DC wants to get investors to bail they’ll have to do better than what we’ve heard over the last few weeks.

Jon “Dr. J” Najarian of OptionMonster points to the CBOE Volatility Index (^VIX) as evidence of Wall Street’s apathy. Despite gaining more than 4% in trading on Tuesday the so-called “fear index” finished at 20.34. For comparison’s sake, in the summer of 2011 the Vix spiked to over 25. Going into the fiscal cliff at the end of 2012, the Vix’s closing peak was 21.8.

The situation is fluid but for the most part “traders think this is just political theater likely to end in a lousy deal,” Najarian says. In other words, Wall Street is betting this time isn’t different from the last.

Lost in that line of reasoning is that the last time we had a heated debate over the debt ceiling was pretty grim. As it stands the S&P is less than 3% off the highs. In 2011 the total drop was six-times as large. It’s one thing for traders to talk big about buying the dip now. It’s going to be interesting to see how tough the talk is if and when the sentiment morphs from “buy the dip” to “protect your gains.”

None of which is to say the debt ceiling mess isn’t a travesty. Beyond just being an international embarrassment that puts America’s status as the global safe haven at risk, having the government come to a near total stop justifies Bernanke’s open-ended quantitative easing program and all the brutal implications that come with it.

“I’m not a huge fan of QE,” understates Najarian. It steals from people on fixed income and the middle class and pushes their money into the hands of the middle class. It’s a national disgrace but it’s also bullish for stocks. You don’t have to like it but investors are always better off playing the tape they have rather than holding out for the one they want.

Sell-offs tend to follow a standard order. First the momentum names get smacked then the rest of the market falls in reverse order of quality. Yesterday saw some 2013 favorites take a beating. It remains to be seen if it’s going to be enough to bring out organic fear among traders.