The Obama administration announced this week that the federally run insurance plan for people with pre-existing conditions will be less expensive and easier to qualify for, beginning July 1.

The Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan, or PCIP, provides insurance coverage to people in the private market who have been denied insurance due to conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, obesity, coronary artery disease and lupus. PCIP launched in January as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It serves as a bridge to 2014, when the new health exchanges open in each state, and offer insurance options for everyone, without discrimination based on health status.

Arthritis Foundation President and CEO John H. Klippel, MD, joined Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS, for the announcement on May 31. Dr. Klippel expressed strong support. “These changes will offer more Americans with pre-existing conditions an option to access the care they need without the discrimination that has occurred against those who have debilitating, expensive diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, which currently affects nearly 2 million Americans,” he said.

Making PCIP plans more affordable and lowering the application requirements may increase enrollment, which has been relatively low. About 18,000 people have joined the program, which was expected to cover approximately 350,000 participants through 2014. Some states, specifically Hawaii, Maine, North Dakota and West Virginia, have fewer than 30 people enrolled.

Sebelius said HHS will increase outreach for the program through various measures, such as working with insurers when an application is denied.

The new eligibility rules, however, may mean fewer people with pre-existing conditions will be denied by private insurers. Previously, an applicant had to a provide letter of denial from an insurance carrier to qualify for PCIP. Now, all that is required is a note from a doctor, physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner confirming a pre-existing illness.