Illinois small businesses getting an early look at the new

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Small businesses, agents and brokers in Illinois will be able to get early access to the federal website that’s supposed to offer them a place to shop for more affordable health plans for their employees, the federal government said today.

Illinois was one of five states selected for the early rollout of what’s being called “FF-SHOP Early Access” website. The other states that will get access to the site in late October are Delaware, New Jersey, Ohio and Missouri.

Early access states will be able to establish accounts on the SHOP website, assign an agent to their account and obtain an eligibility determination from the site, the federal government said. Employers will also be able to browse 2015 insurance plans and pricing as soon as they are available in November, it said.

The idea is to do an incremental launch before the full launch on Nov. 15, so CMS can get a sense of how well the site works and get feedback from users. Companies in Illinois and the four other states selected will also get a chance to start the process of enrolling for 2015 insurance plans early.

“We are focused on implementing the FF-SHOP Marketplace in a way that best serves the interests of small employers and their employees by utilizing the lessons of the first year of Federally-facilitated Marketplace implementation,” said Ben Wakana, a spokesman for U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “This includes providing FF-SHOP Early Access in a few states before fully launching online functionality on November 15, 2014.”

SHOP exchanges were originally supposed to launch nationwide last October through the Affordable Care Act, the same time as exchanges being offered to individuals. But the Obama administration postponed the SHOP launch online because of the variety of technical problems observed on the

However, small businesses in Illinois have already been able to enroll directly in a chosen plan since last year by contacting an agent or broker or by contacting an insurance company directly.

Health and Human Services said they did not have information on how many small businesses had gotten plans through the SHOP marketplace last year.

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