California Small Business Marketplace

By J.D. Harrison
Monday, February 24, 2014

After a slow start, the pace of enrollment is starting to pick up on the health-care law’s new insurance marketplace for individuals and families, with more than 1 million people signing up for coverage last month, including strong showings in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

It’s a very different story, though, for people trying to enroll through the insurance exchanges designed for small employers.

Small-business owners, who were supposed to gain more choices and cheaper rates from the new online-health-insurance portals, have been slow to select plans through marketplaces since the rollout started last fall. In part, some say, that is because luring employers to the marketplaces has taken a back seat to fixing technical problems and recruiting individuals and families.

As a result, businesses in many states have been left with an online-shopping portal that is only partially functional — if they have one at all.

Originally, the small-business exchanges were meant to offer an online-shopping platform where employers could sort through plans from insurers and offer one or several options to their employees. Employees would then select from the options their employer had chosen, and their rates would reflect any employer contribution. That’s a different process than the one used by the exchanges for individuals, where people can select a single plan to cover themselves and, in some cases, their families.

In the District, health officials launched both the individual and employer marketplaces on schedule in October, and after correcting a number of early problems with the site, enrollment on the individual exchange has started to pick up. More than 5,000 people have signed up for private insurance plans through the individual portal.

At the same time, fewer than 300 individuals have purchased a plan offered by their small business on the city’s new exchange, even though nearly 10,000 employers have created an online profile allowing them to shop for coverage.

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