SACRAMENTO -- Covered California on Wednesday said it is suspending online enrollment for the Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP, as part of a redesign and improvements to the state health insurance exchange's website. 

However, the agency said enrollment in SHOP will continue through paper applications and for businesses that work with a certified insurance broker or agent.

“The SHOP portal was not meeting the needs of agents or small employers and needed improvements,” Executive Director Peter Lee said in a statement."Taking the portal offline will not affect the paper application process, which has been the preferred enrollment method traditionally used by insurance agents in the small-group market.”

The online portal for SHOP enrollment went offline Wednesday and won't be back online until later this fall, according to Covered California, established under the federal Affordable Care Act.

As of Jan. 31, nearly 600 groups were enrolled in Covered California’s SHOP, representing 4,490 individuals.  SHOP is currently processing an additional 200 group applications, representing 1,200 individuals, the agency said. Small businesses can enroll in SHOP plans year-round.

Covered California also said that, to date, the "vast majority" of SHOP enrollments have been submitted using paper applications. The new version of the SHOP website portal is expected to increase "the efficiency of service and allow better management of applications."

For individuals, Covered California has enrolled more than 728,000 people into health plans, according to data released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Covered California recently told the Business Journal that it's enrollment goal for individuals was 487,000 to 696,000 by March 31.