Administration: 'Obamacare' to offer uninsured more choices

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WASHINGTON — Insurance companies are showing interest in providing coverage under the new health care law, a development likely to increase market competition and give uninsured people more choices than they now have, the White House said Thursday. Many of the 14 million people who currently buy their own insurance plans could also benefit.

Eager to counter Republican criticism of the law, the White House’s upbeat assessment of the effect of the law comes four months before consumers can begin shopping for subsidized private insurance in new state markets. Widespread enrollment in those plans is crucial to the successful implementation of President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care law.

On its website, the White House posted a memo that concluded that most of the consumers who seek insurance from federal- or state-run insurance markets will be able to choose from five or more different insurance companies. The finding is based on data provided by 19 states where the federal government will run the markets and from other state-run markets. Those states account for about 80 percent of the 7 million people that the Congressional Budget Office estimates will obtain insurance through the new markets in 2014.

Currently the insurance market in most states is dominated by one or two insurance carriers; in 45 states and the District of Columbia two insurers cover more than half of all enrollees.

The administration’s findings about increased competition generally match up with private sector assessments of early indicators. The market research firm Avalere Health found strong insurer interest in participating in about a dozen states that have released details of their new insurance markets.

Whether the competition will result in lower premiums, however, remains an open question.

Meanwhile Congress’ watchdog, the Government Accountability Office, examined the preparations in six states and the District of Columbia and concluded that despite challenges the seven governments have taken steps to create their insurance marketplaces, or exchanges, that they expect will be ready to begin enrolling customers by the Oct 1 startup date.

The GAO, in the report released Thursday, said six of the seven governments also described difficulties with the complexity of the information technology systems they need to put in place to assist consumers in making their insurance choices.

The governments were picked on the basis of their varying uninsured populations, among other criteria. In addition to the District of Columbia, the GAO looked at preparations underway in Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Iowa.

People without access to coverage through their jobs can start shopping on Oct. 1 for subsidized private insurance in new state markets. The actual benefits begin Jan. 1. But because of continuing opposition to the law from many Republican governors and state legislators, the federal government will be running the insurance markets in more than half the states.

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