SF Restaurants fight health care ordinance

April 17, 2008 7:06:39 PM PDT
The city of San Francisco and one of the city's most sacred industries battled it out in court on Thursday.

The ninth circuit court of appeals heard arguments for the city's landmark universal health care plan and against it-- from the restaurants that oppose it.

Luna Park in San Francisco's Mission neighborhood has comfort food on the menu and something a little extra on the bill -- a $1 dollar per person surcharge, to help the restaurant pay for employee health coverage required by the city.

In January, San Francisco launched a first-in-the-nation program offering health care for all uninsured residents with a goal of covering 82,000 people.

Right now 17,000 people are enrolled in the program receiving care at hospitals and clinics.

Most of the $200 million dollar annual cost is expected to be paid for by city and state taxes, co-pays from patients and the rest from companies with at least 20 employees.

"I think it's a problem that needs to be rectified on a national scale, rather than a local one," said Chuck Meyer from Luna Park.

Yet at the same time, the owner of Luna Park says he's pleased his employees now have health care, and so are they.

"Now it's easier for me that if I get sick I can just go to the hospital," said waiter Julio Santiago.

Customers seem to accept the new surcharge, which many restaurants are implementing.

"Health insurance, health care is a very important thing. I think it's not unreasonable," said customer Jeff Carrico.

The Golden Gate Restaurant Association says what is unreasonable is being ordered to provide it by the city.

They are arguing in court that federal law preempts it. The president of the association says if the city wins, the nature of restaurants here will change.

"I think most people are moving to opening pizzerias, taquerias -- anything where they don't have a wait staff," said Daniel Scherotterg from the Golden Gate Restaurant Association.

Mayor Gavin Newsom predicts the city will win the case, but is expressing a willingness to compromise.

"If they present substantive evidence, not anecdotal of the impact, we'll look at other creative ways of working though it," said San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

There's no deadline for the court to rule.