US & Canada

Obamacare: Small-business enrolment delayed by one year

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The Obama administration has announced another delay to its healthcare law, this time to online medical insurance for small businesses.

The marketplace website allowing employers to buy health coverage for their workers will be put off by one year until November 2014.

Ongoing problems with, beset by glitches since its 1 October launch, were blamed for the delay.

It is the latest setback for the law commonly known as Obamacare.

Enrolment for small businesses was originally meant to start in October, until the administration delayed it by a month. On Wednesday it pushed that deadline back again, by a full year.

Administration officials told reporters in a conference call that employers who want to buy healthcare plans for their workers would need to go through an insurance company or agent, rather than through a government website.

Officials said this would allow employers to buy coverage while avoiding slowing down technical repairs on the federal website, which has been plagued by errors.

The White House has promised the website will be fixed by the end of November.

Government health spokeswoman Julie Bataille said on Wednesday the portal was now handling 25,000 users at the same time.

She said it was on track to meet its goal of handling double that number by Saturday.

"We have a lot of work left to do in the next few days," she added.

But she cautioned that some malfunctions may persist on the website beyond the end of this week.

"There will be times after November 30th when does not function properly," said Ms Bataille.

Republicans, who have launched countless legal and political challenges to the law since its passage in 2010, seized on the latest postponement.

"With each passing day, it's clear how much worse ObamaCare is than a website full of glitches," Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus said in a statement.

The online portal was established under the health law to enable consumers who do not get medical cover through their employers or via government benefits to shop for coverage.

But technical problems - including slow page loads and outages - have resulted in much lower-than-anticipated initial enrolment rates.

Considered the largest overhaul of the US healthcare system since the 1960s, it aims to extend health insurance coverage to the estimated 15% of the US population who lack it.

Support for Obamacare, whose official name is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, has recently wobbled even within the president's own party.

Some congressional Democrats are said to be worried that the mounting negative headlines could hurt their 2014 re-election chances.

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