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.

“The health care exchange will bring in $200 million of federal money in the form of tax credits to Vermonters who are currently struggling to pay for health insurance, or to their employers who are struggling to pay for health insurance,” Shumlin said.

Another $100 million to $150 million will be available for people who now get their insurance through Medicaid, which covers the poor and disabled, in addition to federal funding that comes into the state for that program now, the governor said.

Shumlin was joined by Rep. Mike Fisher, D-Lincoln and chairman of the House Heath Care Committee, and Michael Roche, owner of Stowe Tree Experts, a tree care firm with five employees.

Roche said he had accident insurance in case his employees were hurt on the job, but was not able to offer his workers comprehensive health insurance. He said he hopes the state plan will be the solution to his problem.

“I actually don’t think the plan goes far enough fast enough,” Roche said. Of Shumlin and legislative leaders, Roche said, “As an employer in the state of Vermont I’m counting on them to bring intelligent change to our system.”

During House debate on Thursday, minority Republicans are expected to offer amendments to change the mandatory nature of the exchange and give people and businesses the option of buying their health insurance through it or not; and to require the administration to say sooner than it plans to what its planned single-payer system is likely to cost and how it will be paid for.

“Vermont should create an exchange that encourages everyone to purchase in this marketplace without forcing them into an untested system with few details regarding costs and benefits,” said Rep. Don Turner of Milton, the House Republican leader.