TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — With considerable fanfare, Gov. Charlie Crist traveled the length of his state on Wednesday to sign a bill aimed at providing low-cost health coverage to the uninsured by allowing the sale of stripped-down insurance policies.

There is disagreement about whether the new law will make much of a dent in Florida's growing rate of uninsured residents, which at 21 percent is the fourth-highest in the country.

But the best part, as Crist, a Republican, explained at news conferences is that the law "doesn't cost taxpayers a dime."

That is a common thread in state capitals this spring, as governors and lawmakers struggle to respond to broad anxiety about health care within the limitations of deeply strained budgets. The bold ideas of recent years have been swept away by a worrisome economy, leaving incrementalism and caution in their stead.

In some statehouses, the focus is shifting from covering the uninsured to lowering the cost of health care.

It seems like far more than 16 months ago that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, another Republican, captivated the health policy world by proposing a $14 billion plan for universal coverage there. The plan, which resembled the Massachusetts universal plan enacted in 2006, died in the Legislature in January, largely because of fiscal concerns.

Some states have moved to make more people with low and middle incomes eligible for public insurance programs, like Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program. Others have chosen to cut such subsidies to balance budgets, and most new initiatives have been notable for small investments of public dollars.

Crist's initiative, which both houses of the Republican-controlled Legislature approved unanimously, enables insurers to create bare-bones policies that the governor hopes will sell for no more than $150 a month. That is about 60 percent less than the average cost of a policy for a single person in Florida, according to state insurance regulators.