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HHS: Some SHOP marketplaces to phase in after Oct. 1

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Some small-business health option program marketplaces will not open with full functionality on Oct. 1, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"Unlike individuals purchasing through the marketplace, small employers can enroll in insurance plans through the SHOP on a monthly basis throughout the year," an HHS news release posted today said. "As such, some states are phasing in SHOP application and enrollment periods. The SHOP Marketplace for Federally-facilitated Marketplace states opens Oct. 1, 2013, when small employers can start the application process and get an overview of available plans and premiums in their area. All functions for SHOP will be available in November and if employers and employees enroll by Dec. 15, 2013, coverage will begin Jan. 1, 2014."

SHOP is designed for small employers with 50 or fewer full-time employees. HHS did not specify which states would be phasing in SHOP; Pennsylvania's SHOP, like its individual marketplace, will be facilitated by the federal government.

A question to HHS about how the news would affect Pennsylvania's SHOP marketplace was not immediately answered.

HHS also said that as part of the expanded education and outreach campaign, HHS will work with the U.S. Small Business Administration to make additional resources available for small employers. Beginning Oct. 1, 2013, the dedicated SHOP small employer call center at 1-800-706-7893 will offer extended hours Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. EST.

Employers may call the SHOP small employer call center for assistance when completing an application beginning Oct. 1. This call center will also refer employers in states running their own SHOP marketplace to the correct contact information for their state.

SBA and HHS will also offer a new schedule of educational webinars tailored to educate small business owners across the country about what the SHOP offers and how it works. HHS has trained more than 40,000 agents and brokers, who will continue their traditional role of helping small businesses enroll in coverage, both inside and outside the SHOP marketplace.

In related marketplace news, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the Spanish version of healthcare.gov will not be ready Oct. 1, according to Reuters. Instead, Spanish-language information and assistance will be available by telephone until the site goes live later in the month.

Also, the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare announced Thursday afternoon that COMPASS, the state’s online health and human services system, will be temporarily unavailable for several periods of time beginning 8 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, through 8 a.m. Sept. 30.

“The temporary outage is one of several system upgrades across multiple service channels that Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Welfare is undertaking, working closely with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services,” a news release said. “The changes are necessary to manage requirements for determining eligibility and to align with the federal health insurance exchange as part of the federal Affordable Care Act.”

The COMPASS system is an online resource for applying and renewing benefits such as Medicaid, CHIP, Food Stamps (SNAP), Cash Assistance, LIHEAP, Long- Term Care services, School Lunch program, Child Care Works, and home and community-based services.

Any applications started in the COMPASS system prior to 11 p.m. Sept. 28 but not completed will be purged and applicants will be required to start the application process over. In addition, the local county assistance offices will be unable to process applications into the system beginning 8 a.m., Sept. 30 until 8 a.m., Oct. 1. Clients in need of emergency food stamps benefits during the system upgrades are encouraged to stop by a local county assistance office Monday through Friday to complete a paper application.

Heather Stauffer

Heather Stauffer

Heather Stauffer covers Lancaster County, nonprofits, education and health care. Have a tip or question for her? Email her at heathers@cpbj.com. Follow her on Twitter, @StaufferCPBJ.

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