Starting any new government program usually entails some risks.
So it is with the Comprehensive Health Insurance Pool Act, which was passed by the 1990 Legislature and for which funding is being sought in the upcoming legislative session.The law establishes an insurance plan for residents who can't qualify for private insurance because of chronic health problems.
State Insurance Department officials met this past week with Gov. Norm Bangerter to urge funding of the plan.
A majority of those needing assistance have jobs and are even willing to pay expensive premiums, but in most cases, the individuals can't qualify for health insurance - regardless of where they work.
The act applies only to such people classified as "uninsurables" It does not apply to those who are merely uninsured because they can't afford it.
Even with a state-subsidized program, the otherwise uninsurable would still pay high premiums. Officials say they would not be getting a free ride, but would pay approximately 150 percent of what the average Utahn pays for similar coverage.
Studies of 23 other states that have such a program show that not everyone who is eligible signs up immediately. Not everyone who is uninsurable would automatically qualify for the pool, and there would still be some who wouldn't be able to pay the premium required.
Two to three years ago, a state task force determined that an estimated 6,000 Utah residents simply could not obtain health insurance. They suffer from a wide variety of chronic medical conditions, including diabetes and heart and kidney diseases.
Based on the 6,000 figure, which may be very low when more definitive data is available, it would cost at least $3 million for the state to subsidize the cost of health insurance for uninsurables.
When the comprehensive act was passed in the last session, it was determined that there was not enough money to fund the risk pool then. So the Legislature appropriated $75,000 to begin some preliminary work, including establishment of a policy board, to develop a plan of benefits, actuarial studies and eligibility requirements.
Bangerter has said he is supportive of the program concept, but is waiting for revenue projections before making any commitments for budget recommendations to the Legislature.
The public would do well to remember that there would be no way to recover funds expended. But if more effort isn't made to assist uninsurable people the state might end up having to take care of more of them in other, more costly ways.