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WEST VALLEY CITY -- A new health program aimed at covering the 4 million people in the United States who are uninsured due to pre-existing conditions was launched Thursday.
In Utah, hundreds of thousands of people are in that situation. One woman says she thinks the new program will be a lifesaver.
For years, West Valley City resident Annette Jackson has had rheumatoid arthritis. The disease locked her toes in place, weakened her hands and, she says, made her uninsurable.
"Even the [insurance companies] that say we take everybody, you call them, you tell them you have rheumatoid arthritis, they say, ‘I'm sorry we don't cover people with rheumatoid arthritis,'" Jackson says. "There's no point in even filling out the paperwork, is what they told me."
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The condition made it hard for Jackson to do her job as a support service provider for the deaf and blind, and she couldn't afford the premiums of a state insurance program.
"Without insurance, you don't go to the doctor unless you think you're dying, you know?" Jackson says.
Last week, Gov. Gary Herbert announced his decision to sign Utah up for a $40 million health care program for the uninsured. It's called the High-Risk Pool for Uninsurable Citizens.
Because it came late, Utah's program won't go into effect until Aug. 1.
"We have the ability in Utah, uniquely so, to spend the money more efficiently than the federal government," Herbert says.
Though criticized because of costs, advocates say the program will be a bridge to 2014 -- when the national health reform law bans denials of coverage based on pre-existing conditions.
"This is a temporary solution. It's really a baby step until 2014, when the entire category and concept of uninsurability will disappear," says Judi Hilman, with the Utah Health Policy Project.
"I'm really excited that I might have a chance to have insurance," Jackson says. "It would take so much stress out of my life."
For more information on the High-Risk Pool for Uninsurable Citizens, Utahns are being asked to call Utah's program administrator, SelectHealth, at 1-800-705-9173.