Enrollment Delayed for Health Insurance Marketplace

The start of open enrollment on the Health Insurance Marketplace has been delayed by the federal government.  Millions of Americans expected to begin enrolling in health insurance products through the Marketplace on October 1st.  The delay will impact both individuals shopping for health insurance and small businesses looking to purchase insurance for their employees through the Small Business Health Option Programs (SHOP).

Sources in Washington have confirmed that October 1st will be a “soft launch” for the new Health Insurance Marketplace.  On October 1st, visitors to HealthCare.gov will experience the start of a “preview period,” during which individuals and small businesses will be able to browse insurance products but they will not be able to enroll through the website.  The Health Insurance Marketplace website will initially only offer consumers information about the available plans and cost details.  Currently, HealthCare.gov contains a red flag on its main page that reads, “Plan & Cost Info Coming Oct 1”.  “Open enrollment” is noticeably missing from this message.

Sources indicate that small businesses will not be permitted to enroll in health plans through the SHOP Marketplace until November 1st.  Small businesses may still be able to purchase Marketplace products for their employees starting October 1st but will likely be forced to utilize paper applications or communicate directly with Federal Marketplace agents.  However, it remains unclear how this process will work.  Of significance, the government has not yet announced how long individuals will have to wait before they can start purchasing insurance products through the Marketplace.

Marketplace architects have encountered information technology complications that have caused the delay to open enrollment on the Marketplaces.  As a result of the data systems difficulties, key components of the Marketplace have been unable to operate without significant glitches.  It could be several weeks before the Marketplace is able work out all the kinks.

The impact of the delay to open enrollment in health insurance products through the federal Marketplace remains to be seen.  It will depend, in large part, on the duration and continued scope of the delay.  However, several immediate impacts are readily discernible.  First, unless the January 1st deadline to enroll in a health insurance plan is also delayed, consumers will have less time to evaluate their options, including the availability of tax subsidies, before making coverage decisions.  Second, the delay will likely enhance the confusion and anxiety already surrounding health care reform.  Finally, small employers will need to respond to inquiries and concerns from their employees who were expecting to be enrolled in a health plan in the coming month.

We will continue to update you as details related to the Health Insurance Marketplace unfold.

Fraser Trebilcock’s Health Care Practice Group and Employee Benefits Group provide guidance and counseling to providers and businesses related to all aspects of Health Care Reform.

To find out more about the impact that the Affordable Care Act has on health care and your business, contact Health Care Department Chair Jonathan Raven at jraven@fraserlawfirm.com or 517.377.0816, or our Employee Benefits Department Co-Chair Elizabeth H. Latchana at elatchana@fraserlawfirm.com or 517.377.0826.