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Democrats call for patience as critics decry health care law

As federal health care reform marks its sixth month, some of its key provisions begin to take effect as supporters and opponents of the legislation call attention to what the bill does and doesn’t do.

Starting today, new plans won’t be able to cap lifetime benefits or refuse to cover pre-existing conditions for children younger than 19. Young adults can be covered on their parents’ plans through age 26.

But it’s not like a switch was flipped at 12:01 a.m. The changes take effect for individual plans on Jan. 1, which is when they renew in Washington state; for group plans they start whenever members re-enroll after today.

“It’s extremely confusing,” said Stephanie Marquis, a spokeswoman for the Washington State Insurance Commission. To help explain the changes, and how they affect those different types of plans, the office has a developed chart on its website.

Some reports around the country say insurance companies will refuse to cover children to avoid having to cover pre-existing conditions. Not so in Washington state, where companies are already filing updates for next year.

“We haven’t heard of any plans here that aren’t going to sell to children,” Marquis said.

The new requirements will add about 4 percent to the cost of insurance, but other factors which have been driving up premiums for years also will continue. Total cost increases are expected to be in double digits, she said.

As President Barack Obama tried to build support for the reforms with a speech in Virginia, the White House released stories from around the country of people benefiting from the new law. Washington state’s story was a Spokane business owner, Janine Vaughn of Revival Lighting, who was able to use new tax credits for small businesses to help pay for her employees’ premiums.

The state’s Republicans, however, turned up the volume on their criticism. U.S. Senate candidate Dino Rossi on Wednesday criticized his opponent, Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, for voting for legislation that he says is “hurting, not helping Washingtonians by raising health care costs.”

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., was scheduled to take part today in the unveiling of the House GOP’s “Pledge to America,” a list of election year promises reminiscent of the successful 1994 strategy called “Contract with America.” This year’s list will call for the repeal of health care reform, replacing it with laws that let people buy insurance from other states, reform medical liability laws and expand health savings accounts.

Democrats such as Gov. Chris Gregoire, a strong supporter of the law, called for patience. Gregoire said the changes that start today and other provisions of the law allow innovation and could lead to Washington state remaking parts of its health care system.

“I know it’s frustrating,” she said, but the health care system is too complicated to change quickly.