Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) are opening up for individuals and small businesses with less than 50 employees in states across the country. These exchanges, or online marketplaces, will allow employees, as well as those who are self-employed, to comparison shop for health insurance. Much like they shop now online for an airline ticket or a hotel room, people can search for the best coverage plus find out if they are eligible for federal subsidies to help cover the cost.
Sixteen states and the District of Columbia are running their own exchanges and the federal government is setting up exchanges in 27 states. Enrollment begins October 1 with healthcare coverage taking effect January 1, 2014. Marketplaces could make it easier to buy health insurance and possibly lead to lower prices because of increased competition, say industry experts.
Here are five things Fox News reports that employees need to know before state and federal exchanges launch.
1. Employers, regardless if they already offer their employees insurance, are required by law to notify employees about the exchanges. The Department of Labor has two model notices that businesses can use depending on whether or not they offer health plans. There is no fine for not sending the letter but business owners should do the right thing.
2. Employers should email the notices if they don’t want to send a letter. They can do so as long as the email meets the DOL’s standards regarding electronic disclosure. Consider using a return receipt to make sure they get it. Or undelivered email notifications.
3. Businesses with less than 50 employees can choose to renew their existing health care plans in November or December to avoid the impact of the healthcare laws for another year, if they are worried about premium increases.
4. Small Businesses operating in more than one state can offer coverage through the SHOP exchange associated with the state where the business is based to all employees, regardless of where they live. If the state where the individual employee lives offers a better option employers can choose to offer coverage to those employees through their state exchanges.
5. What if your business grows to more than 50 employees during 2014, you can continue to participate in the SHOP exchanges? In 2016, SHOP exchanges will open up to businesses with up to 100 employees.
For more information about the exchange visit healthcare.gov, which has details on federal exchanges and links to state-run exchanges?