On February 12, Covered California officials made the decision to suspend the online portal for the Small Business Health Options Program. This part of the SHOP website will be redesigned to better meet the needs of small businesses and insurance agencies, and online enrollment will once again be available this fall. The website improvements are aimed at improving efficiency and management of applications, based upon initial feedback from insurance agents and small business owners.
In the meantime, small business owners can still file paper applications with SHOP, or consult with a Certified Insurance Agent about health insurance for employees. For help with a new or existing application, business owners are urged to call the SHOP hotline at 877-453-9198. Representatives are available to take calls Monday through Friday from 8:00 am until 6:00 pm.
SHOP was created in response to provisions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which encourage small business owners to provide health insurance to employees. This part of the website is operated separately from the portal provided to individuals. Business owners who employ between one and fifty workers use SHOP to access a variety of healthcare plans and options, similar to the manner in which large companies compare employee healthcare plans.
The ACA established tax credits to help small business owners afford employee health insurance premiums, but the only way to qualify for these credits is to purchase a healthcare plan through SHOP. Companies may qualify for these tax credits if they:
• employ fewer than 25 full-time-equivalent workers
• pay employees, on average, less than $50,000 per year
• pay at least 50 percent of employees’ premium costs
Companies which employ fewer than 50 workers are not required to purchase insurance, nor will they be penalized for not doing so. However, these businesses may benefit from the value of recruiting and retaining high-quality workers.
Small businesses are eligible to enroll in SHOP year-round. To date, 571 groups have enrolled in SHOP, and about 200 more applications are currently being processed. Most applicants have so far utilized paper applications, so the portal’s closing is not expected to have a large detrimental effect on enrollment.
Steve Amante is the President and CEO of Amante & Associates Insurance Solutions, Inc. To learn more about Healthcare Reform contact Steve Amante or Frank Faldmo the firm’s Employee Benefits Advisor at (951) 676-8800 or visit: www.amanteandassociates.com