Ready, small businesses? Online SHOP enrollment has begun

It began on Nov. 15. That was the date when online enrollment for 2015 coverage through the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) went live.

As you might recall, online enrollment was delayed in 2013, and small businesses were directed to work with an agent, broker or insurer to complete and submit paper applications for 2014. But, for the forthcoming year, the story is different — and a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) bulletin has the details.

Virtually everything

The bulletin explains that, for 2015, employers will be able to choose coverage, complete an application and enroll entirely online. Employers can also work with a registered agent or broker, who will have enhanced online capabilities.

Employers are also reminded that a SHOP full-time equivalent employee calculator and a tax credit estimator are available. The bulletin links to 2014 plan and premium information, noting that estimated premium information for 2015 also went live in November.

Important change

This CMS bulletin marks an important change for 2015. Eligible small employers who enrolled in the SHOP with paper applications (including those who worked with an agent or broker) were permitted to claim a small business health care tax credit for 2014.

But, with that relief expiring, you’ll need to enroll online — either on your own or with agent/broker assistance — to qualify for the tax credit for 2015. (Additional requirements apply.) And remember: Participation in the SHOP is voluntary, but it will be the only means for obtaining the tax credit.

That said, keep in mind that the eligibility requirements for SHOP coverage are different from those for the tax credit. So you might be eligible to buy SHOP coverage but ineligible for the credit.