Some Small Business Health Insurance Exchanges Now Live

The federal government was supposed to roll out online health insurance exchanges for the vast majority of states about a year ago, but faced many difficulties in doing so. Now, however, it is doing what it calls a “soft rollout” of these sites, with five states gaining early access to the sites earlier this week.

The five states – Delaware, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, and Ohio – will allow the smallest businesses (those with fewer than 50 employees) to shop for health insurance coverage in much the same way that average consumers nationwide can on state- and federally-run exchange sites, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal. Small businesses in the other 45 states, plus the District of Columbia, will get onto the sites in mid-November. So far, these sites seem to be working well enough, even after the delays that kept them closed for about a year after they were originally supposed to go live.

“We’re optimistic,” John Arensmeyer, chief executive officer for the advocacy group Small Business Majority, told the newspaper. “They said they’d be up and they’re up. Everything they said they would do, they’ve done, and that’s a good sign.”

Little data yet
For its part, the federal government says that this soft rollout is happening because it wants to make sure there are no kinks in the system that would otherwise be more problematic when more states see their exchanges go live, the report said. However, it was not immediately clear how heavily these sites are being used, so some waiting remains on that front before any conclusions can be drawn.

Fortunately, in addition to live use by a potentially wide swath of small business owners across those five states, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the exchanges, will continue to test them on their end as well, the report said. The hope is that they’ll be fully functional and error-free by Nov. 15, when the rest of the country can use them.

Owners who want to make sure their companies are positioned as well as possible to deal with this kind of issue in the next few months and beyond might want to think about the ways in which they can reduce their other small business insurance expenses. For instance, by shopping around for more affordable liability insurance, they might be able to save thousands annually which can then be devoted to other aspects of their companies.