Overhauling of the state's health-care system is still a work in progress, but a few practical improvements are starting to be made.

Employed Utahns without insurance now have more opportunity and financial help in enrolling in health plans offered at work.

As part of legislation approved earlier this year, working adults and families who qualify may sign up for Utah's Premium Partnership for Health Insurance (UPP) at any time. The change follows similar legislation also passed by the 2008 Legislature that removed the capacity and did away with closed enrollment periods for the state's Children's Health Insurance Plan.

The steps are part of a multifaceted, multi-year effort to improve the state's health-care system. Providing access to insurance coverage is a key part of HB133, a comprehensive, unanimously approved blueprint for building in more access to and quality of health-care services while reducing redundancy and cost.

Prior to the legislation, employees could enroll in UPP or make changes to their insurance only during open enrollment or if they had a "qualifying lifetime event" such as marriage or the birth of a child. Under the bill, qualifying for UPP is now deemed one of those lifetime events and in effect allows year-round enrollment.

"This is just one step our state is taking to help improve access to health insurance," said Dr. David Sundwall, executive director of the Utah Department of Health. The program is a front-line employee-oriented change that will bring real access to people who have jobs but can't afford insurance otherwise, he added.

UPP will pay up to $150 per month per person to cover a portion of a working Utahn's monthly health insurance premium. Current UPP enrollment is 201 adults and 350 children. Along with approving the open enrollment, lawmakers are providing more funding to enroll many more families.

To qualify for UPP, an employee must not currently have coverage, qualify for the employer's health benefits plan, be a U.S. citizen or legal resident and meet household income guidelines.

Those guidelines, as well as other details about UPP, are available at health.utah.gov/upp or by calling 1-888-222-2542. Information regarding how employers can provide UPP options to their workers is also available on the Web site and at the toll-free number.

More information about House Bill 133, this new legislation or background materials and meeting minutes for the special Health Care Reform Task Force can be obtained at le.utah.gov.


E-mail: jthalman@desnews.com