It’s Thanksgiving so, naturally, there is news about healthcare.gov. The news is about Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) exchange. It’s supposed to be like the exchange that people use to buy insurance on their own, only it’s supposed to be for small businesses. Eventually, employees of small businesses will be use the site to buy their own coverage, once their employer has picked from a menu options—in effect, giving them the same kind of choices that employees of many large firms already have.
Cool, right? But it’s not ready yet. The administration announced a while ago that the employee-shopping feature wouldn’t be ready this year. And it announced a few weeks ago that even the access for employers wouldn’t be ready on October 1, when the rest of the site became functional (er, was supposed to be functional). On Wednesday, the administration announced that it was delaying the whole program until next year.
It’s a disappointing delay—not the first and, most likely, not the last. But when thinking about Obamacare implementation issues, it’s useful to divide those problems into two categories: (1) bad things that are happening and (2) good things that are not happening. An example of the former would be problems accessing healthcare.gov for people with insurance that expires on December 31. If they can’t get new coverage lined up in time for January 1, they’ll be uninsured. That would be very, very bad.
But the worst thing that happens if small businesses can’t get insurance on the new exchanges is that they spend another year buying insurance as they always have before—through brokers or on their own, directly from insurers. The SHOP exchange would have made it easier for them to shop and compare, improving competition. And next year, hopefully, it will do that. Obamacare’s success depends a lot on what happens in the next few weeks, but the small business exchange isn’t really one of the factors.