By Bruce Shutan, Employee Benefit News

Covered California’s Small Employer Health Options Program (SHOP) is growing, but a private-sector competitor to the state-run HIX is growing even faster.

Ron Goldstein, CEO of heath exchange company: Choice Administrators at their office in Orange. ///ADDITIONAL INFO:    RonGoldstein.METRO.0424.kjs  ---  Photo by KEVIN SULLIVAN / Orange County Register  --  4/14/15 The story is about Ron Goldstein, the CEO of heath exchange company: Choice Administrators. Photographed at their company headquarters in Orange, Ca. 4/14/15

CaliforniaChoice, whose framework predated public exchanges by many years and led to their development, now has 12,070 employers in its program and 218,648 enrollees. That’s up from 11,500 employers and 150,000 members last August. In stark contrast, Covered California has 2,289 employers and 15,633 enrollees, up from 1,700 employers and 11,500 members during that same time frame.

Then again, any such comparison could be apples to oranges to a certain extent. For example, while the availability of tax credits gives SHOP exchanges a leg up over private exchanges, only a tiny percentage of small businesses are even eligible for such assistance.

“It wasn’t like getting subsidies where it was up to 400% of the federal poverty level,” says Ron Goldstein, president and CEO of Choice Administrators, which runs the private-sector small employer pool known as CalChoice for short. “It was a narrow slice of the market – a single-digit percentage in California.”

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