Yes, the Affordable Care Act offers individuals and families quality health insurance, but did you know small employers with less than 50 full-time equivalent employees can take full advantage of the Health Insurance Marketplace? Online functionality for the SHOP, aka the Small Business Health Options Program, is available starting later this October as part of SHOP early access, which is only available to 5 states. Illinois is one of the lucky few. Brokers and Small Businesses, check it out at HealthCare.gov!
This incremental launch will help identify issues early and assist brokers and businesses in building confidence in utilizing the SHOP online system.
During SHOP early access, Illinoisians can do the following to initiate enrollment:
- Establish a Marketplace SHOP account
- Establish an agent or broker to their account if they wish
- Complete an employer application
- Obtain an eligibility determination
- Upload an employee roster when enrollment functionality is available
- Starting in November, browse health plans with coverage starting in 2015
The SHOP Call Center can be reached at 1-800-706-7893 (TTY: 711) Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. EST.
While small businesses have always had group plan options, many even available online, there were challenges that got in the way of providing group coverage to their employees. Premiums were expensive and small businesses lacked the purchasing power of larger organizations. The SHOP makes some pretty substantial changes to the ways in which small businesses can buy plans.
First, financial assistance is now available in the form of a tax credit. This can substantially help employers by covering up to 50% of employer contributions towards employee premiums. This assistance provides the opportunity for businesses to offer employee coverage where it would have previously been unaffordable. Second, the SHOP helps small businesses harness the purchasing power of other small businesses, thus letting them play in the big leagues along with larger organizations.
Small businesses do not have to offer health benefits under the Affordable Care Act, but it is in their best interest to check out options and see what is possible, particularly if they are concerned with employee retention. Whether or not they decide to provide group health insurance coverage, small businesses are nonetheless required to inform employees of the Health Insurance Marketplace, so that individual coverage options can be explored.
Brokers and Small Businesses take note. The time is now to explore options, prepare, and get ready for a new system opening up possibilities for small businesses in Illinois.
Emily Gelber MSW, LSW
Health Policy Analyst
Health & Disability Advocates