- The Washington Times - Monday, May 15, 2017

Obamacare’s small business outreach has been such a flop that the Trump administration announced Monday it was nixing part of the federal HealthCare.gov website aimed at helping those companies enroll in the health law.

The companies will still be able to get tax credits to help offer plans to their employees, but won’t be able to use the website to enroll their employees.

Instead, they will work directly with insurance companies or brokers and agents that register with the small-business exchanges, or SHOPs, that were established under the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

“Our goal is to reduce ACA burdens on consumers and small businesses and make it easier for them to purchase coverage,” said Seema Verma, administrator at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “The ACA has failed to provide affordable insurance to small business and to the American people. This new direction will help employers find affordable healthcare coverage for their employees and make the SHOP exchanges function more effectively.”

Under the Trump plan, companies in 33 states would still use the HealthCare.gov portal to see if they’re eligible tax credits, though they cannot use it to enroll workers in plans that take effect on or after Jan. 1, 2018.

States that run their own SHOPs, such as the D.C. one that enrolls congressional lawmakers and staff, may continue to offer online enrollment or likewise direct employers to work directly with insurers, brokers or agents.

Obamacare created the SHOP program as a pathway to coverage for people who work at smaller companies — ones that aren’t mandated to offer health insurance by the 2010 law.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that about 4 million would enroll nationwide by 2017.

Yet the program has fallen far short of that target, with roughly 27,000 employers covering nearly 230,000 individuals as of January 2017, according to CMS.

Just 7,600 of those employers, covering roughly 39,000 workers, were using the federal HealthCare.gov site.

The Obama administration itself floated the idea of ending HealthCare.gov SHOP enrollment in regulatory filings last fall, before the Trump administration stepped in and acted Monday.

Analysts say the small-business tax credit hasn’t been popular because it was restricted to so few companies.

Employers needed to have 25 or fewer full-time employers with wages averaging less than $50,000 to qualify, and while many businesses could receive a credit for up to half of the employers’ share of premiums starting in 2014, it would expire after two years.

Timothy Jost, a law professor at Washington and Lee University who tracks the health care debate, said some employers might not have known about the credit or saw it as a hassle with too much government paperwork.

“Small employers likely did not view the credit as a sufficient incentive to begin offering health insurance, particularly given the complexity of, and time required to claim, the credit,” a 2014 report by the Government Accountability Office said.

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