Gary Cohen, the Health and Human Services department official overseeing the rollout, said small business owners in states with federally-run markets will still be able to go online Oct. 1 and compare their health insurance options.
They can get the process going by filling out a form that will have to be transmitted separately by mail, fax, or as an email attachment. HHS will upload the information into the government's computer systems. The businesses will have to wait until sometime in November to finalize their applications.
"We wanted to make sure this was going to work properly and be effective for small businesses," Cohen said in an interview. "We just felt like taking the additional time to make sure everything was functioning the way we wanted was the right thing to do."
Under the law, most small businesses do not have to provide coverage. But firms with 50 or more employees face a mandate to offer insurance or risk fines from the government.
That coverage mandate was supposed to take effect Jan. 1, but the administration caused a stir this summer by unexpectedly delaying it a year to address employer complaints.
Delays and pared-back expectations are a standard feature of big technology rollouts. But the Obama administration has tried to project an image of efficiency and confidence.
A small business group supporting the health care law says it's disappointed.
"They have a gargantuan task, and like any other technical effort, they didn't quite hit their deadline," said John Arensmeyer, CEO of Small Business Majority. "The concern we have is that every time there is a bump in the road that it not be perceived as' the system is not going to work.' "
Cohen, the HHS official, said no further delays are anticipated. "The individual market will open on time Oct. 1 with full online enrollment and plan shopping," he said.