MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — With the Vermont House poised to debate the next big step on the road to what Gov. Peter Shumlin hopes will be single-payer health care, the governor on Wednesday defended his proposed requirement that employees of small businesses get health insurance through a state-backed insurance market known as a health care exchange.

Shumlin said about 96,000 Vermonters working for the 16,000 employers in the state with payrolls of 50 or fewer workers would be able to compare health plans, their benefits and costs on a website. The companies would have the option of continuing to offer employment-based health insurance — and get federal subsidies to do so — or let their employees buy federally subsidized health insurance on their own.

His comments came as minority Republicans were drafting amendments to change key parts of the legislation.

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