State quietly announces delay of small business health exchange

By Glynis Kazanjian

mobbies-badgeState health officials confirmed what first reported two weeks ago — the Jan. 1 opening of the small business health insurance marketplace will be delayed.

According to a weekly report issued late last Friday by the Maryland Health Connection, the Small Business Health Options Program, known as SHOP, will not open Jan. 1 as scheduled. Instead, for the second time this year, SHOP’s opening has been pushed back, this time to April 1, 2014.

“Maryland has a well-functioning small group market which offers the same prices as those that will be offered through the small group exchange, known as the SHOP,” Exchange officials said in Friday’s report. “The Board approved a plan to open the SHOP on April 1, 2014, which will allow more time for testing and coordination over the next several months.”

Some Marylanders are still having trouble getting through “end-to-end” because of technical problems, the report said.

No new enrollment updates

Health officials were also unable to provide a routine weekly update on enrollment figures.

Because exchange officials say they are revising the way they will provide enrollment updates in the future, “there is no updated enrollment data this week,” the reported stated.

Future reports will break down enrollees by individuals vs. households and those enrolled in qualified health plans vs. Medicaid.

The Maryland Health Benefit Exchange Board met Friday to discuss the beleaguered online health insurance marketplace, Maryland Health Connection. The computer system has been riddled with technical problems since it launched Oct. 1.

As of Nov. 1, Maryland Health Connection has been able to fully enroll only 4,500 households after a month of operation — far from its goal of enrolling 150,000 uninsured residents by March 1.

Many in the health insurance industry believe that problems with the individual marketplace should first be improved before a market for small businesses becomes part of the exchange.

“The delay does not come as a surprise,” said Ellen Valentino, Maryland state director of the National Federation of Independent Business. “Better to delay than to move forward with an  important program that isn’t ready.”