In a press release on September 26, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) acknowledged that the Small Business Health Option Program (SHOP) Marketplace will not be ready to accept online enrollments when it opens on October 1. SHOP exchanges, created under the Affordable Care Act, are health insurance exchanges designed for small employers with 50 or fewer full-time employees.

The HHS press release states that on October 1, employers will be able to “start the application process and get an overview of available plans and premiums in their area.” However, “all functions for SHOP,” including the ability to enroll in plans, will not be available until some time in November. Coverage is expected to be available beginning January 1, 2014, if employers and employees enroll by December 15, and enrollment in SHOP exchanges will be possible year-round.

For the past several months, the federal government has repeatedly asserted that the scheduled October 1 opening of the state insurance exchanges, or marketplaces, for individuals will not be delayed, and it is expected that enrollment in plans will be possible immediately in those exchanges that will be operated by the federal government directly or in partnership with states. However, Colorado, Oregon and the District of Columbia have announced that online enrollment will not be immediately available when their state-run exchanges open on October 1. 

Individual coverage in all states will be available beginning January 1, 2014. Unlike SHOP exchanges, the open enrollment period for individual exchanges will end on March 31, 2014; future open enrollments will be from October 15 through December 7 of each year. 

HHS will operate a SHOP call center to assist employers in completing their applications, provide information about available federal tax credits, and refer companies to the correct contact information for their state.