Small Business, Spanish Language ACA Insurance Enrollment Delayed
On Thursday, the Obama administration announced two new delays in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, saying small business and Spanish-language online enrollment services in federally run exchanges would not begin on Oct. 1 as planned, Reuters reports (Morgan, Reuters, 9/26).
In a news release touting the launch of the Small Business Health Option Program, HHS said it has delayed for one month online enrollment for employers with 50 or fewer workers because of technical problems. HHS said that all functions of the program "will be available in November, and if employers and employees enroll by Dec. 15, 2013, coverage will begin Jan. 1, 2014" (Shear, "In Practice," New York Times, 9/26). In the meantime, small business owners will be able to mail or fax their enrollment information to government officials. The administration also said a SHOP Small Employer Call Center will be open for extended hours to assist employers Monday through Friday (Jackson, USA Today, 9/26).
White House press secretary Jay Carney on Thursday told reporters that the starting date for small businesses was not as critical as the one for the individual market because employers can enroll in coverage at any time during the year, while individuals have a limited enrollment period (Harrison, "On Small Business," Washington Post, 9/26).
White House Delays Spanish-Language Enrollment
The Obama administration also said that the online Spanish-language enrollment would not be available until "sometime in October," Reuters reports (Rampton, Reuters, 9/26).
However, an administration official said the move should not be considered a delay. Instead, he said it was pushed back to coincide with a "week of action" around Hispanic Heritage Month, in which community organizations and local, state and federal government agencies will highlight how Hispanics can benefit from the law. Hispanic Heritage month began on Sept 15 and ends on Oct. 15, according to "Capsules" (Gold, "Capsules," Kaiser Health News, 9/26). Carney told reporters that Spanish speakers still can contact the call center for help enrolling.
White House officials said the neither of the delays would affect the Oct. 1 enrollment start date for individuals (Baker, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 9/26).
The latest delays bolstered calls by Republicans and opponents to repeal the ACA, while raising concern among some of the law's supporters.
National Federation of Independent Business Manager of Legislative Affairs Kevin Kuhlman in a statement said, "With this latest glitch in the small business exchanges, the case for a delay of the individual mandate alongside the employer mandate only grows stronger." He added, "Small business owners should not be forced to comply with a law that is clearly not ready for prime-time" (Lee, Modern Healthcare, 9/26).
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) in a statement said, "It is obvious that the administration is just as unprepared for Obamacare's Oct. 1st start date as the rest of the country" ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 9/26).
Meanwhile, Jennifer Ng’andu -- head of the health and civil rights policy project at the National Council of La Raza -- said the Spanish-language delay could confuse many individuals because the latest marketing campaigns encourage Spanish-speaking residents to visit cuidadodesalud.gov to enroll. She added that the Obama administration "needs to accurately relay where people can go to get help -- we cannot lose people because of the fact that a website was not functioning."
However, Jane Delgado -- president and CEO of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health in Washington -- said that "it's better to get it right than to make mistakes. We want good information. We're so used to people throwing something up in Spanish and it not being very good" ("Capsules," Kaiser Health News, 9/26).
Delays, 'Glitches' Stack Up
The two new delays add to a growing list of delays and glitches for the ACA.
In recent months, the Obama administration has delayed several aspects of the ACA, including:
- One-year delay to the ACA's employer mandate (California Healthline, 9/9);
- One-year delay to an aspect of the law's small business health program (California Healthline, 9/24);
- One-year delay to a provision that limits out-of-pocket health care spending for individuals (California Healthline, 8/15); and
- One-month delay of the Medicaid eligibility tool (California Healthline, 9/25);
In addition, various glitches -- which compromise both state and federal implementation -- include:
- Problems with federal subsidies and costs calculations (California Healthline, 9/20); and
- Enrollment system problems in DC and Colorado (Begley, Reuters, 9/25).