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    Small businesses can help employees get appropriate, affordable health insurance, thanks to a new online marketplace offered through the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.
    The new Illinois Chamber Benefits Exchange is a partnership of the Chamber and Flexible Benefit Service Corp. (Flex), provider of InsureXSolutions.
    The exchange is similar to the online marketplaces established under the federal Affordable Care Act and allows users to shop for health insurance coverage appropriate to their needs. The exchange offers various insurance plans provided by Blue Cross Blue Shield, Humana, Assurant and Aetna. Short-term “gap” health insurance and dental coverage are also available on the exchange.
    The Chamber announced the rollout of the online exchange in late January.
    Chamber President Doug Whitley said previously that it would benefit employers who don’t offer health benefits or want to provide an alternative to employer-sponsored health coverage.
    Employees who face a March 31 deadline for obtaining health insurance coverage will be able to get up-to-date information on the law, compare health plans and get expert assistance from insurance professionals.
    Chamber spokesman Todd Maisch said it is too soon to gauge response to the exchange. He said there is at least one difference between the exchange’s launch and that of the federal marketplace in October.
    “Ours was thoroughly tested,” he said. “It uses technology that was up and running elsewhere.”
    Maisch said applicants found to be eligible for premium assistance under the ACA would be redirected to the federal marketplace.
    The so-called “individual mandate” requires enrollment for health coverage by March 31 to avoid penalties this year of up to 1 percent of annual income or $95 per year, whichever is higher. Fines for uninsured children are $47.50 each or a maximum of $285 per family.
    Penalties increase to 2 percent of income or $325 per person in 2015. In 2016, penalties go to 2.5 percent of income or $695 per person.
    The health care law requires businesses with 50 or more workers to offer health insurance to their workers or pay a penalty – the so-called “employer mandate.” Enforcement of that requirement was originally to begin this year but was delayed until 2015 and, recently, until 2016.
    “By launching their own exchange platform, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce has provided businesses with a way to take care of their employees without creating administrative headaches,” John DiVito, president of Flex, said in a news release. “We provide technology and resources to simplify the entire process, and we take care of 100 percent of the work.”
    InsureXSolutions implements and manages the exchange on behalf of employers and provides employees individual log-in credentials, support and guidance as needed.
    To access the exchange, go to insurexsolutions.com/ILChamber/bhome.aspx.