Small businesses won't be able to register online immediately with Obamacare insurance exchanges, the Obama administration acknowledged Thursday.
It signals yet another delay in the rollout of the healthcare law scheduled for Oct. 1, and is the latest technical glitch in the run-up to the online insurance marketplaces' opening for business.
Last week, officials said the exchanges, where people would shop for health insurance, were experiencing software problems
resulting in unreliable pricing information.
Individuals, however, still will be able to buy insurance when the exchanges open Oct. 1. Coverage would begin Jan. 1.
Small businesses with no more than 50 workers will not be able to register online Oct. 1 because of the software glitch, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Until technical issues are resolved, businesses must register through an insurance broker or submit a paper application.
The computer glitch likely will be resolved in a few weeks, and small businesses will be able to use the exchanges by early November, the administration said.
"We have made significant progress in recent days and weeks, and are now completing our final end-to-end testing, which is designed specifically to identify remaining issues before open enrollment and correct them," Joanne Peters, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, told the Journal.
Meanwhile, the government insists the software issues for the individual marketplaces will be resolved in time for the rollout, but the Journal reported Friday that healthcare experts watching the situation closely remain skeptical that everything will be ready for the launch in just four days.
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"These technical glitches happen every time there is an implementation of a large-scale benefit," Dan Mendelson, chief executive of Avalere Health, a health-industry consultancy, told the Journal. "This is just an amped-up political environment."
The delays will provide ammunition for critics of the law, who have claimed for some time that the roll-out would be unwieldy and plagued with operational failures. But the Journal noted that insurance brokers are advising business owners looking for small-group plans to put off their shopping on the exchanges until November anyway, which is about the time most insurance companies will be ready to release rates for next year, agents say.
Small-business owners, the administration said Thursday, could "evaluate their coverage options" on the exchange beginning Tuesday, but owners won't be able to shop for or compare plans until Nov. 1.
At that point, "what you want to do is investigate both inside and outside the exchanges," San Francisco insurance broker Susan Shargel told the Journal.
An estimated 2 million people are expected to be covered by small-business plans next year, and 7 million individual consumers are expected to get coverage through 2014, the Journal noted.
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