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Health insurance brokers, employers and individuals are all eagerly awaiting full-scale implementation of the California Health Benefits Exchange, a centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act, but it’s still anyone’s guess as to what it will look like.

While details of what the exchange, also known as Covered California, will look like have emerged recently, a key piece of just how effective it will has not yet been determined: the monthly premiums for plans that will be offered to individuals and employers.

Specifically, no clear answer has emerged to the question on everyone’s mind as open enrollment season quickly approaches in October, when Covered California will launch with plans taking effect on Jan. 1, 2014: Should employers continue providing coverage for employees or should they opt out and send them to the exchanges, where they may be eligible for subsidies to purchase individual health plans? [read more of the April 22 story "Many unknowns remain about exchange"]

CalChamber asked Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, to clarify what small businesses (two to  50 employees) need to know about the state’s new insurance marketplace.

In response to questions posed by small business owners Patrick Mulvaney of Mulvaney's Building & Loan and Marco Rodriguez of MVP's Sports Grill, Mr. Lee said:Small businesses don’t have a mandate to offer health insurance.Small businesses will be able to purchase insurance through Covered California’s marketplace or on the open market.Small businesses will be able to choose how much coverage they want to provide but then let employees pick the right plan from a range of options that fit them best.