White Houses Closes a Health-Care Enrollment Option

By Michelle Hackman Features Dow Jones Newswires

The Trump administration said Monday that it would no longer make enrollment for small-business plans available on Healthcare.gov, a change that carries little practical impact but signals the administration's movement on a pledge to scale back parts of the Affordable Care Act.

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Under the ACA, employers with as many as 50 workers could sign up for small-group plans through the Small Business Health Options Program, often called SHOP, where some employers could qualify for tax credits to lower premiums. As the exchange was originally envisioned, small employers could use the platform to make contributions to their employees' health coverage, allowing workers to pick which plans they preferred.

But the health law's small-business tax credits proved insufficient to attract a large number of employers to the SHOP exchange, and most small-business owners shunned the federally run marketplaces in favor of working with private brokers. The administration's announcement of the change noted that less than 8,000 employers, with a combined 40,000 employees, enrolled in SHOP plans through the federal exchange in 2017.

"Our goal is to reduce ACA burdens on consumers and small businesses and make it easier for them to purchase coverage," Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said in a statement.

Some analysts depicted the move as largely a gesture.

"Scaling back the SHOP exchange won't really make much difference and is more of a symbolic move to chip away at the ACA," said Larry Levitt, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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The CMS, which administers the ACA, said small-business tax credits would be made available to employers purchasing plans directly from insurers or through brokers. It also said the change wouldn't affect 17 states that run their own SHOP exchanges.

Though the change will mean little for most ACA consumers, it reflects the administration's intent to use executive authority to undo portions of the health law as Congress attempts to pass a larger repeal and replacement package.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on his first day in office directing federal agencies to take steps they could to reduce the "regulatory burdens" of the health law, but the Department of Health and Human Services has announced few such actions.

John Desser, senior vice president of Public Affairs at EHealth, a private health insurance broker, said the government's decision to hand enrollment over to the private sector is a positive sign for other ACA markets.

"This is the model we would like, and hope, to see for individual coverage as well," Mr. Desser said.

Write to Michelle Hackman at Michelle.Hackman@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 15, 2017 19:52 ET (23:52 GMT)