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Health care reform hit another important milestone Thursday when uninsured Floridians with pre-existing conditions could begin applying for coverage through a new government-run plan. The coverage could be a lifesaver for tens of thousands of residents who have been unable to obtain private coverage because of medical problems.

A new government website,, is easy to navigate and provides specific information about insurance options within each state. While states were given the choice of running their own Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, Florida's high-risk insurance pool has been closed for years. So it made sense for the state to become one of roughly 20 where the plan is being run directly by the federal government.

To qualify, individuals must have been uninsured for at least six months, have a pre-existing condition and have been denied coverage by a private insurer. Everyone who meets those conditions may obtain coverage, regardless of income level, but premiums will not be particularly cheap. While Florida's government-subsidized premiums will not be available until July 15, the estimated premium for a 50-year-old resident will be between $552 and $675 a month. That still beats going without any coverage at all.

These insurance pools are acting as a bridge until the full health care reforms take effect in 2014. The $5 billion Congress earmarked for the subsidies may not be enough to last that long, but this is a vital part of the reforms. It should save taxpayers in the long run by providing coverage to people who have no other choice but to seek expensive charity treatment in hospital emergency rooms or spend down their assets far enough to qualify for Medicaid.

The opening of the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plans is one of several reforms already taking effect. Several of the largest health insurers have agreed to keep young people under age 26 on their parents' plans, which will not technically be required until most employers' health plans are renewed in January. And the insurance industry is honoring a ban on canceling the coverage of sick policyholders that takes effect in September. So while critics of the health care reform law are filing lawsuits, many Americans already are receiving the benefits that will keep them healthier and improve their lives.