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.

Administration officials point to a report by the Democratic staff of the House Energy and Commerce Committee last week that determined that in Oregon and Washington the competition is lowering premium rates even before income-based tax credits are taken into account. But two other states whose filings were examined by the committee, Rhode Island and Maryland, signaled premium rate increases.

An earlier report by the committee's Republican staff surveyed insurers who estimated that premiums would increase in most cases.

Indeed, concerns remain that people who already have insurance coverage, especially the young and healthy, could face an increase in premiums because of the new law's demands. The plans that will be offered next year are more comprehensive than many bare-bones policies currently available to individuals.

They have to cover a standard set of benefits, including prescription drugs, maternity care and rehabilitation services. Insurers are also limited in what they can charge older customers, and they are not allowed to turn away sick people or charge them more. The most important cost feature is that the new plans limit copayments and other out-of-pocket costs to $6,400 a year for individuals and $12,500 for families.

A new report by Center Forward, a centrist research group that has its roots with the moderate Blue Dog wing of the Democratic Party, concluded that differences in current state regulations will determine the effect on premiums. Of six states it examined, the report determined that five would see sharp premium increases of up to 50 or 60 percent. One state, New Jersey, could see a drop in premiums of up to 25 percent.

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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Associated Press writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.

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Follow Jim Kuhnhenn on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jkuhnhenn

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  • 1912

    Former President Theodore Roosevelt champions national health insurance as he unsuccessfully tries to ride his progressive Bull Moose Party back to the White House. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

  • 1935

    President Franklin D. Roosevelt favors creating national health insurance amid the Great Depression but decides to push for Social Security first. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

  • 1942

    Roosevelt establishes wage and price controls during World War II. Businesses can't attract workers with higher pay so they compete through added benefits, including health insurance, which grows into a workplace perk. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

  • 1945

    President Harry Truman calls on Congress to create a national insurance program for those who pay voluntary fees. The American Medical Association denounces the idea as "socialized medicine" and it goes nowhere. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

  • 1960

    John F. Kennedy makes health care a major campaign issue but as president can't get a plan for the elderly through Congress. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

  • 1965

    President Lyndon B. Johnson's legendary arm-twisting and a Congress dominated by his fellow Democrats lead to creation of two landmark government health programs: Medicare for the elderly and Medicaid for the poor. (AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 1974

    President Richard Nixon wants to require employers to cover their workers and create federal subsidies to help everyone else buy private insurance. The Watergate scandal intervenes. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

  • 1976

    President Jimmy Carter pushes a mandatory national health plan, but economic recession helps push it aside. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

  • 1986

    President Ronald Reagan signs COBRA, a requirement that employers let former workers stay on the company health plan for 18 months after leaving a job, with workers bearing the cost. (MIKE SARGENT/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 1988

    Congress expands Medicare by adding a prescription drug benefit and catastrophic care coverage. It doesn't last long. Barraged by protests from older Americans upset about paying a tax to finance the additional coverage, Congress repeals the law the next year. (TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 1993

    President Bill Clinton puts first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in charge of developing what becomes a 1,300-page plan for universal coverage. It requires businesses to cover their workers and mandates that everyone have health insurance. The plan meets Republican opposition, divides Democrats and comes under a firestorm of lobbying from businesses and the health care industry. It dies in the Senate. (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 1997

    Clinton signs bipartisan legislation creating a state-federal program to provide coverage for millions of children in families of modest means whose incomes are too high to qualify for Medicaid. (JAMAL A. WILSON/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 2003

    President George W. Bush persuades Congress to add prescription drug coverage to Medicare in a major expansion of the program for older people. (STEPHEN JAFFE/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 2008

    Hillary Rodham Clinton promotes a sweeping health care plan in her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. She loses to Obama, who has a less comprehensive plan. (PAUL RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 2009

    President Barack Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress spend an intense year ironing out legislation to require most companies to cover their workers; mandate that everyone have coverage or pay a fine; require insurance companies to accept all comers, regardless of any pre-existing conditions; and assist people who can't afford insurance. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

  • 2010

    With no Republican support, Congress passes the measure, designed to extend health care coverage to more than 30 million uninsured people. Republican opponents scorned the law as "Obamacare." (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

  • 2012

    On a campaign tour in the Midwest, Obama himself embraces the term "Obamacare" and says the law shows "I do care." (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)