Why Kids’ Advocates Should Pay Attention to SHOP – Say Ahhh! A Children’s Health Policy Blog

By Kathleen Hamilton, The Children’s Partnership

One of the first and most interesting questions posed by
the California Health Benefit Exchange (HBEX) to its Small Business
Health Options Program (SHOP) stakeholder work group was “who is the SHOP consumer?”
Early discussions clearly revealed a fundamental assumption that the “consumer”
in SHOP was the employer.  As a
member of the stakeholder work group, we felt there were TWO consumers in a
SHOP – certainly the qualified employer, but also the employee.  The Children’s Partnership developed
its report SHOP TALK: Recommendations for Ensuring Best Health Coverage
Outcomes for Children and Families
to highlight the potential of a SHOP to
address not only employee needs, but those of family members as well.  We hope the report has helped reframe
the vision of SHOP, so that in addition to being a marketplace for small
employers, it is also an important link to coverage for working families.

Small business health options programs (SHOPs), as envisioned under the
Affordable Care Act, can be established by states as part of an Exchange. They
are intended to create a small group purchasing market for employers with fewer
than 100 employees. The goal is to both increase the number of small employers
who offer coverage to workers, and to reduce the cost of those plans. There is
no requirement that qualified SHOP employers offer dependent coverage to their
employees, but we came to the view that SHOP can and should be a key part of
the systems and linkages that connect everyone to coverage.

Because most children get their health coverage through
employer-sponsored health insurance, a SHOP could also enhance the availability
of coverage for dependent children. 
For that reason, we jumped at the invitation to serve on the HBEX work
group and to contribute to the dialog about how to maximize SHOP success. 

In “SHOP TALK” we share a series of recommendations we’ve
submitted to the California Health Benefit Exchange Board.  In ongoing, robust conversations we
have also been able to suggest ways that HBEX can actually implement these
recommendations. We’ve recommended that:

* HBEX explore how to broaden the consumer perspective so
that a SHOP employee is regarded as a SHOP “consumer;”

* HBEX require the development and implementation of
appropriate, systemic linkages between SHOP and other public coverage options;

* SHOP be specifically required to provide information to
employees that will direct the employee to resources for determining
eligibility for, and enrollment in, other available health coverage options
including Medicaid and CHIP, for dependents;

* The SHOP employee application should provide an opportunity
for employees to indicate if they have dependents for whom health coverage is
needed or sought;

* HBEX should ensure that SHOP families are made aware of, and
have access to, the most suitable and affordable coverage for children.

The California HBEX appears to be putting SHOP on its
policy and operational roadmap. Several provisions for the implementation of
our recommendations were included in California’s recent Request for Proposals
for its eligibility, enrollment and retention IT system, so we are hopeful that
the important family linkages we have highlighted will be developed. But in
many ways, this conversation is just beginning.  The focus on Exchanges has largely been on the individual
Exchanges – we hope other advocates will consider and comment on the tremendous
potential of SHOP to enhance family coverage.  And please share your ideas and thoughts with us as well. 

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