IRS expects more small businesses to claim healthcare tax credit

As the spokeswoman noted, participation more than doubled in the first year alone. The White expects about 360,000 employers to claim the credit in tax year 2011.

That's still much lower than the number of potentially eligible businesses, but the IRS is taking additional steps to boost awareness of the tax credit.

The IRS is working with the companies that make tax software to build in new alerts for businesses that might be eligible, the spokeswoman said. The agency is also reaching out to tax preparers and insurance agents. And it's planning more Web presentations for small-business owners, following up on a webinar that brought in roughly 7,500 viewers.

According to GAO, the tax credit might be too small to be attractive to small businesses. More than 80 percent of the companies that would be eligible for the maximum credit don't offer health insurance, the GAO said, and those employers say the tax credit isn't big enough to get them to start providing coverage.

The credit is available to companies with fewer than 25 employees who make an average salary of less than $50,000 per year. Companies must provide healthcare benefits and pay for at least half of their workers' coverage.