UPDATE 1-U.S. delays online health insurance enrollment for small businesses

Wednesday, 27 Nov 2013 | 1:50 PM ET

(Adds details on main government enrollment website)

WASHINGTON, Nov 27 (Reuters) - The Obama administration on Wednesday announced a one-year delay in online health insurance enrollment for small businesses with 50 or fewer full-time workers that could qualify for subsidized coverage under Obamacare.

It was the latest in a series of delays that have diminished the scope President Barack Obama's landmark healthcare law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The administration has faced implementation challenges before and since the troubled Oct. 1 rollout of the federal website HealthCare.gov.

Online enrollment was originally expected to be available for small businesses on Oct. 1. Administration officials say they now plan to offer web-based enrollment services by November 2014.

Wednesday's announcement said employers seeking coverage through the federal Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP, marketplace would be able to enroll off-line through insurance companies, agents and brokers.

SHOP enrollment has so far been available only through paper applications.

The news surfaced three days before an administration deadline for getting the HealthCare.gov website operating smoothly for individuals interested in Obamacare coverage.

Officials could not say immediately whether the decision to keep small businesses off-line was related to concerns about how well HealthCare.gov will perform with large volumes of visitors.

Businesses with fewer than 50 employees are not required to offer insurance to their workers and have a one-year enrollment period, versus six months for individuals. A mandate that companies with 50 full-time employees or more provide health coverage has already been delayed until next year.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by David Brunnstrom)