Tech Glitches, Confusion on Day 1 of SHOP Exchanges

Small-business owners eager to check out and compare available health-care plan options under ObamaCare were mostly out of luck on the first day of open enrollment.

For much of Tuesday, the federal SHOP exchange, which is available to employers in 34 states, was sending a mixed message. On the official website, small-business owners were told they could review available plan options by clicking a link. But when clicking through to see the plans and prices available in their states, they were greeted by a bold “Error” message where the plans and premiums were supposed to be.

This comes after last week’s announcement from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that employers wouldn’t be able to submit SHOP applications online until November. And earlier this year, the government announced employers would have to wait until next year to be able to select several insurance plans at a time. This year, they can only select one coverage option to offer all employees.

States running their own exchanges were also seeing a mixed bag on the first day of open enrollment. Washington’s Health Plan Finder tool revealed an internal server error message, but some others, like Oregon’s, easily allowed small-business employers to compare its 73 available plans. Meanwhile, Maryland and Hawaii also had troubles getting their exchanges to launch.

Shortly before the end of the business day, the ability to compare generic plans online through the SHOP website became available, although processing remained slow. And the details were not specific to individual businesses, as according to CMS, business owners won’t be able to compare plans tailored to their specific needs until November.

CMS administrator Marilyn Tavenner said the site received more than 2.8 million visitors in the fifteen hours since launch, causing the site slowdown.

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” said Tavenner.

Small-Business Owners React to SHOP Exchanges

Despite outreach and education attempts on the part of the Obama administration, small-business owners continue to express confusion regarding the SHOP exchanges.

In Colorado, the owner of women’s clothing store Outdoor Divas Mike Callas told on Tuesday that he never heard he was required by law to inform his employees that the exchanges would be opening on October 1. He says he’s been trying to stay up-to-speed by researching online, listening to public radio and reading business journals, but the requirement probably got lost in the shuffle.

“I wasn’t aware of the notification … I’m sure there were some details I might have missed,” says Callas.

He says he doesn’t offer insurance to his ten employees, and pays for his own health insurance out-of-pocket. Callas says he’ll “probably” check out the options available to him in Colorado, which is running its own exchange, but says he doesn’t feel any rush.

“It’s not the first thing I did after coffee this morning,” he says.

On the other side of the spectrum, Sarah Forrer says she couldn’t wait to check out the SHOP exchange. Forrer is the owner of Main Street Cupcakes and runs three bakeries in the state of Ohio.

Last night, before the exchange launch, Forrer says she was clicking around the site. She says she could only see a summary of the process and a preview of what the exchange might look like.

“I think I fall into that small sliver of Americans who pay out-of-pocket for health insurance. I have a thriving business, a happy family and children to cover … I’m very curious about it,” says Forrer, who says she currently pays an “exorbitant” amount of money for her plan.

She says her carrier told her they would be in touch mid-October regarding plans that might reduce her costs, but she’s excited about the possibility of a different, more affordable option. Plus, she says she would love to be able to offer her 15 employees insurance, a benefit not currently offered by Main Street Cupcakes.

“This has been at the forefront of my interest, and it has nothing to do with who I voted for – nothing to do with my political alliances,” says Forrer.

She says she’s disappointed her insurance agent hasn’t already reached out to her about the exchange in an attempt to help her navigate through her SHOP options.

“The application is long ... and very detailed, like filling out taxes, but I felt lucky. I could understand it, but how about that other sliver who are uninsured? They might not grasp this,” says Forrer.

But other business owners say ObamaCare has already caused them a great deal of stress and anxiety.

Tim Tippit, who runs a home décor business with his wife in Oklahoma, says he can’t keep his plan because of the new law, and isn’t sure what to do next.

“We received notice last Thursday our current plan would no longer be available,” says Tippit, who says Blue Cross told him they’d touch base regarding new plans by mid-October.

“We have no idea the cost or all the changes you look at when you’re purchasing a plan,” says Tippit, making their financial planning very difficult.

Tippit expresses concerns regarding the quality of the plans offered through the SHOP exchange.

“I want to make sure the doctors will accept it, and make sure I have the same type of health care [like I had] through Blue Cross,” says Tippit. “But we may look if we get priced out of the market.”