Congressional auditors say health insurance companies are finding ways to stymie a new law intended to guarantee Americans won't have to go without health insurance when they change jobs.

They found companies jacking up premiums for people who try to use the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act to convert their group policies to individual coverage and said some companies are discouraging their agents from writing the high-risk policies by reducing or eliminating commissions."Consumers attempting to exercise their right have been hindered by carrier practices and pricing," the General Accounting Office, Congress' investigative arm, said in a report released Wednesday.

In addition, some consumers have misunderstood parts of the complex law, unwittingly losing their chances to take advantage of it, the report said.

Overwhelmingly approved in both the House and Senate, the law was hailed as a bipartisan victory when President Clinton signed it in August 1996.

But while the law required insurance companies to sell the policies, it didn't guarantee the policies would be sold at reasonable prices.