An estimated 85,000 Salt Lake County residents hover near the edge of financial disaster. Nationally, the figure is between 32 and 37 million nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population.

These men, women, and children have no health insurance. Most are too poor to pay their own premiums, but have too much money to qualify for state medical assistance. An incredible 65 percent of the uninsured are employed.Between 5,000 and 10,000 Utahns have cancer, diabetes, arthritis, Downe's Syndrome, or cardiovascular problems that are considered "uninsurable." These people either cannot qualify for health care insurance or are required to pay high premiums many find prohibitive.

But the greatest percentage of the uninsured are unemployed or employed part-time, particularly in small businesses.

Companies of all sizes are using part-time workers or job-share systems to decrease the use of costly benefit packages. And group health insurance is not offered by 40-43 percent of area small businesses, according to statistics cited by the Health Care Access Steering Committee, a task force appointed by Gov. Norm Bangerter to examine the issue of health insurance for the uninsured.

The task force is trying to create an insurance package for employees of businesses that hire fewer than 10 workers, a significant proportion of the uninsured.

Even when the employee is willing to pay the entire cost of the insurance, though, many employers are not tapped into a plan, so workers have no access.

The task force's proposed Utah Small Employer Health Plan centers around asking hospitals and doctors to provide care to clients of the plan at reduced rates usually 50-60 percent of normal costs.

This seems like an acceptable way to go, especially since hospitals have been operating with increasing vacancies anyway. The plan claims hospitals they won't lose money by selling the excess capacity to the community.

Such a plan is clearly preferable to a measure being pushed in Congress that would force all businesses, even small ones with part-time employees, to provide significant health insurance coverage. That could be disaster for many smaller companies.

Twelve other states already have recognized the terrible cost of the ininsured on the individual, the state, and the federal government and have adopted some form of local risk pools for the medically uninsured.

It's certainly cheaper to develop an insurance package than to drive people onto the welfare rolls or into bankruptcy courts. People who work pay into the tax base, instead of taking from it.

A people opposed to socialized medicine and national health care must search diligently for other solutions. The task force has recognized that the effort should come from the private sector, not from the federal government. It's time to make it work.