President Obama has allowed 18 states to continue delaying a key part of Obamacare’s health insurance exchange for small businesses—“employee choice”—from being implemented until 2016, if then.
The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently approved petitions from the states, which didn’t want to implement the “employee choice” feature in their online exchanges in 2015, The Hill reported.
The Small Business Health Options Program Marketplace, which has had a rocky start, is an online insurance exchange for employers with 50 or fewer full-time employees.
The SHOP marketplace’s “employee choice” feature is supposed to allow employees who search the exchanges to choose any health plan at the actuarial value—or “metal level” (bronze, silver, gold, and platinum)—their employer has selected.
States requesting the delay are Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia.
“Small business markets differ from state to state,” CMS, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, said in a release explaining its final rule, which stressed the transitional policy applies only to 2015. “HHS expects that the states and insurers will be able to learn from the experiences of insurers in those [small business exchanges] that have decided to implement employee choice in 2015.”
But even with the “employee choice” feature, Heritage Foundation health care expert Edmund Haislmaier said, it’s doubtful Obamacare’s SHOP marketplaces ever will function as well as Utah’s small business exchange. It was set up before Congress enacted Obamacare, formally the Affordable Care Act.
“Utah’s small business exchange was designed to enable small businesses to offer their workers a wide range of plan choices,” said Haislmaier, Heritage’s senior research fellow in health policy. “Even if they operate as intended, the Obamacare SHOP exchanges would still restrict plan choices available to workers in small businesses.”
The Obama administration’s latest move is consistent with the Obamacare approach in the insurance exchanges of the individual market, Haislmaier said. “In that marketplace, we’re seeing health insurers becoming more like public utilities, offering government- standardized coverage options.”