Nearly 140 businesses sign up for coverage through state health exchange

Exchange website for small businesses likely won't be ready until 2016.

Almost 140 small businesses have signed up their employees for health coverage through the state's new small business exchange by using outside contractors and paper applications, according to information presented at the exchange's monthly board meeting Tuesday.

The long-delayed business website created under the Affordable Care Act will allow employees to compare plans and enroll completely online by Jan. 1, 2016, exchange officials said.

For now, employees can view plans on third party administrator sites. Employers also can now offer workers a range of plans through the exchange within one "metal" tier. The tiers provide increasing levels of benefits.

The majority of businesses signing up through the exchange, known as SHOP, also likely qualified for federal tax credits because they have fewer than 25 workers.

In other news, the exchange is gearing up to mail out tax forms that consumers will need at tax time to show they have coverage mandated under the federal health reform law. Those who can't prove they had insurance are subject to an increasing level of fines.

About 81,000 people signed up for private plans last year, according to exchange records, with about 10,000 dropping the coverage at some point because they moved, had a work or family change or didn't see value in the insurance.

The exchange plans to email and mail letters to make sure they know about the forms.

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