With so much press and coverage over the recent March 31 sign-up deadline for individual health care, a separate issue was greatly overshadowed: Not long from now, many small business owners will have to make a choice on whether they will enroll in their own health insurance exchange, and how they will offer healthcare coverage to their employees.

The Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) program is set up in each state, and is designed to serve as a healthcare exchange for small businesses. So while the program is available now in paper form (with certain parts being delayed), it goes completely live for online enrollment coming sometime this fall.

Small business owners have been provided with several choices when deciding how to proceed.

1. Renew existing small group plan for two more years, even if the plan doesn’t comply with the Affordable Care Act.

2. The ability to replace existing coverage with a plan purchased on the SHOP exchange.

3. Discontinue coverage, and encourage employees to seek out coverage of their own provided through their state’s individual exchange.

Looking at the Numbers

The number of employees you maintain is a huge factor in how the SHOP exchange affects your business.

– For businesses with 25 or fewer employees (those who are not required to offer health care), if you choose to do so, there are many tax credits available to you.

– Though the enrollment period is currently open to businesses with fewer than 50 employees, those businesses are not required to offer health care under the Affordable Care Act to their employees.

– Businesses with more than 100 employees are required to provide coverage to their employees or face a fine beginning in 2015.

– Mid-sized business (50-99 workers) will be required to offer coverage beginning in 2016 or face a fine.

Unlike the individual coverage, the SHOP exchange is open to businesses year round because there is no open enrollment period.

To learn more about the SHOP marketplace, your options, credits, and qualifications for your small business, click here to visit healthcare.gov’s FAQ page.