Maryland approved a plan Monday to allow small businesses to offer employees small group health plans in April, but pushed back the launch of its small business health care exchange website to Jan. 1, 2015, in line with the federal health exchange.

The program, which would give small business employees access to federal tax credits, was initially slated to open in October, but was delayed due to glitches that have plagued the state's exchange. Certified plans and access to tax credits worth up to 50 percent of the employer's contribution toward employee premium costs, will be available directly through carriers, third party administrators and brokers starting April 1.

"Maryland small businesses will be able to access tax credits to help them cover the cost of health coverage for their employees," Maryland Health Benefit Exchange Interim Executive Director Carolyn Quattrocki said in a statement.

Thirteen companies are offering qualified health plans that have been approved for sale on Maryland's SHOP Exchange, including Aetna Health Insurance Inc.; Aetna Life Insurance; CareFirst BlueChoice; CareFirst of Maryland; Group Hospitalization and Medical Services Inc. (a CareFirst company); Coventry Health and Life Insurance Co.; Coventry Health Care of Delaware; Evergreen Health Cooperative; Kaiser Foundation Health Plan; MAMSI Life and Health Insurance Co.; Optimum Choice; UnitedHealthcare Insurance Co.; and UnitedHealthcare of the Mid-Atlantic.

The state's exchange has faced technical issues since it opened in October, and lawmakers will vote on an emergency measure Tuesday to retroactively cover those who tried to enroll by Jan. 1 but were unable due to website glitches.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

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