Online enrollment for the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) on the federal exchanges will be operational later this year, according to a spokeswoman at the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Although she gave no further details about the website’s launch date, the confirmation is welcome news to employers who so far have been relegated to enrolling on the federal SHOP exchanges using paper applications or the call center.

The online enrollment component for the SHOP exchange has twice been delayed, first until “sometime in November 2013” and then, on Nov. 27, 2013 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that online enrollment for the roughly 37 states with a federally run SHOP exchange would be delayed again until November 2014 to allow more time to create a “smoothly functioning online experience in the SHOP Marketplace” and add “key new features, including an employee choice option and premium aggregation services.”

When online enrollment in the federal SHOP exchange becomes active, employers must create their own log-in through HealthCare.gov to confirm the authorization of an agent or broker before the agent or broker may gain access to their account, CMS says. All agent and broker authorizations in SHOP will be established at the employer level, the agency says on its website. Employees cannot authorize a separate agent or broker but can enroll with the assistance of their employer-selected agent or broker.

Rocky rollout

The HHS has cited the lack of an online component in the SHOP enrollment process on Healthcare.gov as one reason it has yet to release any data on the number of small businesses that have enrolled in the Affordable Care Act’s federal SHOP marketplace.

Without the automated online enrollment system, CMS is unable to gather enrollment data itself, but will instead collect enrollment information from insurance companies. 

The HHS has repeatedly denied knowing when SHOP enrollment numbers will be available, but on background from one HHS official, the agency doesn’t anticipate having SHOP enrollment data until later this year.

The process of collecting that data from the insurance companies is still being finalized, according to the official.

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