February 13, 2014:
Covered California pulled its SHOP enrollment portal offline Wednesday to fix problems and upgrade the site.
The portal is projected to be back online in the fall. In the meantime, enrollment will continue using paper applications.
The shut down responds to complaints by small business owners and insurance brokers attempting to enroll them in the Small Employer Health Options Program.
The new version of the online portal is expected to increase efficiency and improve steps that determine eligibility, implement changes and issue invoices.
“The SHOP portal was not meeting the needs of agents or small employers and needed improvements,” Peter Lee, executive director at Covered California, said in a news release. “Taking the portal offline will not affect the paper application process, which has been the preferred enrollment method traditionally used by insurance agents in the small-group market.”
Reaction from small business advocates was mixed.
A broker and president of Small Business California, Scott Hauge applauded Covered California for responding to broker complaints about the online portal.
Hauge and other supporters of the reform effort stressed that enrollments on paper will continue.
John Kabateck, executive director of the California Chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business slammed the Affordable Care Act as a law that adds costs, mandates and “almost a new uh-oh a day.”
The portal shutdown is “the latest disturbing sign that this law just isn’t ready for prime time and is leaving millions of uncertain small businesses and families in the dark,” Kabateck said.
Yet small business owners can continue to enroll using a certified insurance broker or by calling the SHOP Service Center at 877-453-9198. The center is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Service center representatives can help with paper applications and answer questions.
Although Covered California launched open enrollment on Oct. 1, online enrollment for SHOP didn’t start until late November. Many small-business owners that already had insurance decided to sit out the first year, particularly since health plans offered good deals on rates for 2014 if they renewed early.
By Jan. 31, 571 small employers with a total of 4,490 employees and dependents had signed up for SHOP coverage.