Sebelius Aims to Set Record Straight on Small Business Exchanges

April 17, 2013 – 5:16 p.m.

Sebelius Aims to Set Record Straight on Small Business Exchanges

By John Reichard, CQ HealthBeat Editor

Among the groups most confused about the health care law are small businesses — a charge Chairman Max Baucus leveled at a Senate Finance Committee hearing Wednesday.

But Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius sought to clear away at least one area of confusion: what choices will be offered to small businesses and when the new insurance marketplaces — called SHOP exchanges — will be available. The short answer: They’ll have a choice in every state starting next year.

The Montana Democrat said that in his home state, “people are worried about the impacts of new rules and how the marketplaces will affect their families and small businesses. He said that a staffer with the Montana Center for Rural Affairs has been traveling across the state to talk to business groups and consumers. She says there are few attendees at the informational meetings. People who do show up often express a lack of understanding about the marketplaces and what they offer.

“My real concern is more with the business perspective more than it is with the consumers,” Baucus told Sebelius, who was on hand to testify about the administration’s fiscal 2014 budget proposal.

But when Baucus raised the issue of a delay associated with the SHOP exchanges — the term under the law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152) for the marketplaces for small business — Sebelius said, “that’s not correct.”

Small businesses will all have a choice of plans in SHOP exchanges and they will open in every state in January, she said. But in states served by the federal exchange, the employees of small businesses as distinct from their owners would not have a choice before 2015, she said, and then only if the owner of the business decides to give them a choice.

Republicans have criticized this delay in giving employees a choice of plans, which the administration attributes to requests from the insurance industry and the complexity of setting up premium payment mechanisms when the employees of one small business are allowed to enroll in a number of plans.

Sebelius said, however, that in those states that aren’t served by the federal exchange — 17 aim to set up their own marketplaces — employees of small businesses in some instances may have a choice of plans in year one. The delay relates only to SHOP exchanges associated with the federal exchange, she emphasized.

“So in 2014 all employers will have a choice,” she said. “They’ll have a choice of plans to offer their employees. They just will not be able to say to that employee should they choose to do so ‘you can choose any plan in the SHOP market.’”

But Baucus, who said the administration “deserves a failing grade” for educating the public about the health law, told Sebelius: “I’ll be watching.”

Source: CQ Online News


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