Despite the federal government shut down, online access to the health insurance exchanges under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (“ACA”) went live on October 1st. For states such as Florida (which have opted to use the federal exchanges), both individuals/families (which use the health insurance marketplace) and small businesses (which use the small business health options program) can access the exchange through the website, www.healthcare.gov. Recent press reports comment on the slow processing of information through the federal website. However, our firm's access has been hampered only to the portion of the site processing rate and plan information. Information and education links on the portal are processing quickly and are an excellent resource for those small businesses and individuals trying to navigate through the ACA’s requirements.

Under the ACA, most employers are required to notify their employees of the exchanges. Employer notification to current employees should have been delivered by October 1st. New employees hired after October 1st should receive the notice as soon as employed (but not more than 14 days after hire). As an employer, you are required to give notification to your employees if your entity is also subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act. Employers can draft employer specific notices for their employees but the U.S. Department of Labor has issued model notices for use by employers. There are two different model notices: one for employers which offer health coverage and one for employers that do not. Both English and Spanish version of the notices can be accessed at the website dol.gov/ebsa/healthreform/. The notices need to be sent to each employee, regardless of plan enrollment status or part-time/full-time status. Employers are not required to provide a separate notice to dependents or other individuals who are or may become eligible for coverage under the plan but who are not employees. The notices can be sent via US Mail or electronic mail, but only electronically if the electronic transmission complies with DOL guidelines on electronic notices. If you missed the October 1st deadline, no need to fret. The ACA does not contain a penalty for employers who fail to comply with the deadline though compliance is encouraged as employers need to use the last quarter of 2013 and calendar year 2014 to gear up for full ACA compliance by January 1, 2015.