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Rollout of SHOP exchange sites already problematic?

Health Care Reform and Policy
by Josh Hammerquist
Health insurance is one of the most  important employee benefits.
Health insurance is one of the most important employee benefits.

Last year, the initial rollout of the health insurance exchange website for individuals was pretty much considered a disaster by just about everyone, and the federal government is consequently taking steps to ensure the same thing doesn't happen with its small business marketplace. Now, it seems as though that strategy was a wise one, as early users have encountered significant problems when using the site.

The Small Business Health Options Program - or SHOP - exchanges are slated to open to all states plus the District of Columbia later this month, but there was a soft rollout a few weeks ago that allowed companies with fewer than 50 employees in five different states to use them early, according to a report from the New York Times. That proved fortuitous because owners in those five states - Delaware, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, and Ohio - have so far reported several major issues with these sites that will need to be addressed before more people start using them.

For instance, one of the biggest issues is that the sites really only seem to work really well on Google's Chrome browser, while users of Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Mozilla's Firefox options have been experiencing far more difficulties, the report said. The ways in which these issues manifest are predictably myriad, with some sites showing costs as percentages rather than dollar amounts, or subscribers as dependents and vice versa.

What's being done?
As these problems are reported, they are being added to the list of things the federal government will work on for the next few weeks with an eye toward hopefully having them sorted out by the broader launch, the report said. However, some experts have also expressed concern because a lot of states just don't have many companies enrolled - sometimes as little as a few dozen - and as a result they may not be catching every issue that could potentially arise as more people use it.

For these reasons, it may be wise for insurance companies to continue pushing their own private options to small businesses even as SHOP exchanges become available later this month. Many owners might not like the options available on them, while others could become frustrated with the issues that might present themselves in the coming weeks and months ahead. Having the ability to catch these companies as they fall through the cracks could prove beneficial going forward.



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