The Obama administration announced Wednesday it would delay a significant piece of the health-care law: the online small business insurance marketplace. The Small Business Health Options Program, known as the SHOP exchange, will not offer online enrollment until November 2014, a one-year delay from a launch that was initially planned for this past October.
In this case, the administration apparently had to choose between competing priorities: work on the online SHOP marketplace or work on addressing the problems that have plagued healthcare.gov for individual consumers. Understandably, they chose the latter.
This clearly represents a setback against the backdrop of otherwise encouraging news from the last several days, and congressional Republicans and the RNS were, true to form, quick to celebrate today's announcement. I'd note a few relevant details, though.
First, the program for small businesses isn't being delayed until 2014; the website is. Interested business owners can still purchase plans, receive the tax breaks, and expand coverage, but they'll rely on brokers instead of the online marketplace. The process will take longer, and filings will be processed slower, but the program itself remains in place.
"We've concluded that we can best serve small employers by continuing this offline process while we concentrate on both creating a smoothly functioning online experience in the SHOP Marketplace, and adding key new features, including an employee choice option and premium aggregation services, by November 2014," the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) materials explained.
So while this is another disappointment, it's not exactly a disaster.
Second, this delay doesn't affect states that already created their own exchanges, so for small businesses in a lot of "blue" states, the announcement is irrelevant.
And third, for all the Republicans hoping for bad news, and crowing about the administration's setbacks, the fact remains that under their approach, there would be no program to help small businesses, no coverage options, no tax breaks, and no website.
Let's put this another way for the GOP lawmakers celebrating today's news:
(1) The White House plan creates an online small-business insurance marketplace and extends tax breaks to small-business owners. The rollout of the website, however, will be delayed.
(2) The Republican plan is nothing.
Today's news is discouraging and fits into the larger mosaic of rollout difficulties, but some of the anti-healthcare players dancing in the end zone this afternoon are lacking in credibility.