On October 27, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) announced that the Federally-Facilitated Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) Marketplace Early Access is operational in Delaware, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey and Ohio. The federal SHOP "Marketplace" (the government’s preferred term for what many states still refer to as "exchanges") was established under the Affordable Care Act.

SHOP exchanges are intended to help small businesses with 50 or fewer full-time equivalent employees provide health coverage to their employees. The "Early Access" period will allow companies and their agents and brokers to open SHOP accounts, complete applications, upload employee rosters, and take other preliminary steps. All features of the federal website are expected to be available on November 15, at which time employers will be able to browse and select insurance plans.

As discussed here, state SHOP exchanges are off to a slow start in the 15 states, plus the District of Columbia, where they have been available since October 2013. One should probably expect a similarly tepid response to the launch of the federal SHOP Marketplace, which will serve businesses in 32 states.

The 15 states in which SHOP exchanges are already operating are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and Washington.  In addition, Maryland, Mississippi and Oregon plan to start their own SHOP exchanges.