LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Small business owners can now get coverage for their employees via California’s health insurance exchange that will kick in as early as Jan. 1, 2014.

The Small Business Health Options section of Covered California launched Monday, allowing small business owners with up to 50 eligible employees to shop for coverage effective as soon as New Year’s Day.

“Covered California has created the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) to help the small business owners to get the best value for themselves and their employees,” said Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California. Lee says more than 1,500 small business owners have been exploring whether SHOP is their best option.

Eligible employees work an average of 30 hours a week, but business owners can choose to offer coverage to part-time employees who work at least 20 hours.

Starting in 2014, purchasing health insurance through Covered California will be the only way small business owners can access federal tax credits to help offset contributions toward employee premiums. Small businesses are eligible for these federal tax credits if they employ fewer than 25 full-time-equivalent employees, pay employees an average of less than $50,000 annually and contribute at least 50 percent of their employees’ premium cost.

“For example, a beauty shop with 10 full-time employees and total wages of $250,000 that purchases insurance through Covered California’s SHOP may be eligible for a $35,000 tax credit in 2014,” Lee said. “We know that the tax credit is meaningful for a lot of small business that have been struggling to obtain quality, affordable coverage for their employees.”

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