Small businesses looking to purchase insurance through the federal ObamaCare exchange have been forced to take a low-tech approach: filling out a pen-and-paper application.

The opening of the online SHOP exchange has been delayed twice this fall. In late September, it was announced that online enrollment wouldn’t be available until Nov. 1; a month later, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner said the launch would be ready by the end of November.

With just four days to go, uncertainty remains.

“Nothing I know of recently prompts any evidence that things are moving forward,” says Thomas Harte, president of the National Association of Health Underwriters.

A spokesperson for the CMS told FOXBusiness.com that the agency is “currently doing our assessment.” Despite the ongoing evaluation, however, the spokesperson said there will be a process in place in four days’ time.

The spokesperson noted that paper applications have been available since Oct. 1. But Harte says the process has hardly been smooth.

“The biggest issue is the time it takes to process. From what I’ve heard, it takes six to eight weeks to review an application,” says Harte. Private-market exchanges traditionally take between seven and ten days to conduct the same procedure.

The long delay can create significant confusion for small businesses. For instance, Harte says if a business owner submits an application this week, a two-month-long processing delay means the owner won’t know the premium costs or subsidies available until after the policy’s effective date.

“They won’t be able to budget effectively,” says Harte.

The inability to easily compare insurance options online is an even bigger problem for small businesses that have received cancellation notices from their insurance providers.

“Oh my God, yeah – I hear about cancellations every day,” says Harte.

And he says many of the replacement policies provide less of a benefit to employees.

“They’re increasing the deductible and co-insurance and out-of-pocket expenses, while also increasing premiums,” says Harte.
 

Follow Gabrielle Karol on Twitter @GabrielleKarol