Along with the opening of California’s statewide health insurance exchange for individuals in October 2013, Covered California also designated a portion of the website to helping small businesses secure health insurance coverage for employees. The Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP, portal was designed to help small business owners apply for and compare health insurance plans for employees. SHOP was designated for small businesses with fewer than 50 employees only; larger businesses use a different system to access healthcare options.
Unfortunately, the online portal was plagued with problems, and has been suspended for repairs until fall 2014. But it is important to remember that suspension of the SHOP portal does not equate with suspension of the entire SHOP program. In fact, the program is alive and well, even though the online application system is temporarily gone. Small business owners can still shop for healthcare plans through the SHOP program by doing one of three things:
- Call the SHOP hotline. This is a particularly good option for those who began an application but were interrupted when the online portal was suspended. Business owners should call 1- 877-453-9198 to check the status of an application. The state’s three call centers have seen heavy work loads and are currently hiring 350 to 400 new staffers to handle this demand. Soon the hotline should be much more accessible to everyone.
- Talk to a certified insurance agent. This is the fastest way to get one-on-one, personal attention. A certified insurance agent can help business owners sort through their options and select a health insurance plan that fits employee needs and the business’s budget. Business owners will also receive information on tax credits which will help cover the cost of health insurance premiums.
- File a paper application. Paper applications are available for printing at https://www.coveredca.com/small-business/ . Paper applications have accounted for the majority of Covered California applications.