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Affordable Care Act online enrollment delay for small businesses

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WASHINGTON (CNN) — Online enrollment and other Web features for the Obamacare health marketplace for small businesses will be delayed for a month, officials said on Thursday.

Small businesses looking for a plan to offer employees will be able to start using the Small Business Health Option Program on October 1.

The federal government will operate a call center to help them explore options, and they will be able to apply for coverage using a paper application.

But administration officials confirmed that features like side-by-side plan comparison and online enrollment won’t be fully functional until November.

“Small businesses will be able to participate in the SHOP beginning on October 1 to evaluate their coverage options,” Health and Human Services Department spokeswoman Joanne Peters said.

“In November, small businesses will be able to enroll in coverage options, well ahead of when coverage begins on January 1,” she added.

To encourage business owners to use SHOP, the agency is partnering with groups in and out of government to help raise awareness.

In addition to its work with the Small Business Administration, HHS said in a statement it will work with the Small Business Majority, Main Street Alliance, Business Forward and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to try to educate business owners on the benefits of its marketplaces.

The outreach will include webinars as well as expanded hours for the program’s helpline.

“Today the administration is announcing a major outreach campaign to make sure small businesses have the information they need,” Peters said. “Open enrollment for the SHOP Marketplace is year round, giving small business owners plenty of time to make a decision.”

Unlike in the individual marketplace where consumers must purchase insurance during the prescribed open-enrollment periods, businesses can enroll in SHOP on a rolling monthly basis. States operating their own exchanges are in charge of when their SHOP marketplaces will be up and running.

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