SEATTLE -

Although Washington state has not opened its health insurance exchange for small businesses, business owners got some good news this week.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray announced yesterday an agreement with the U.S. Treasury Department to make tax credits available to Washington businesses that buy insurance outside of the exchange.

Small businesses already get tax breaks when they buy insurance for their employees. But starting next year the tax credits will range up to 50 percent.

Washington was one of a handful of states where the tax credit increase had been delayed because the tax break was tied to the small business insurance marketplace, which is not open.

The state is piloting a business exchange in two counties -- Clark and Cowlitz.

State officials say they will continue working on the business insurance exchange for the whole state. But business owners will get the tax breaks either way.