Kaiser teams up with Healthy San Francisco

June 3, 2009 6:32:14 PM PDT
San Francisco's first in the nation universal health care took a major step forward on Wednesday. Kaiser Permanente, the state's largest health care provider, is joining the program to take care of the city's uninsured.

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San Francisco officials estimate there are 60,000 uninsured residents. About 41,000 are currently enrolled in the city's health care program. This move by Kaiser could help the city reach its goal of offering access to all by sometime next year.

Mayor Gavin Newsom calls it a 'wow' moment -- a milestone he hopes will be a model for the nation.

"Kaiser is not just a San Francisco company. This is one of the largest HMO's in the United States, certainly in the state of California. The fact that they are participating in this public plan is not insignificant, I think," said Mayor Newsom.

In July, Kaiser doctors like Lisa Tang will join physicians at a handful of other hospitals and several community clinics already participating in the two-year-old city program.

"That includes primary care, tertiary care, emergency care, hospital care, skilled nursing care," said Christine Robisch from Kaiser Permanente.

As the program expands, the city has been able to loosen eligibility requirements. For example, a family of four making about $110,000 a year can sign up, or a single person earning $54,000.

Healthy San Francisco is funded primarily by the city. Even during this fiscal crisis, the mayor is proposing a $9.5 million infusion. There's also a state grant, patient fees based on income and contributions from every company in the city with at least 20 employees.

Jennifer Piallat tacks a surcharge on the bill at her restaurant Zazie to pay for the healthcare, as do many others in her industry.

"I don't think it's a burden at all to care for your employees, to keep them happy and healthy is our responsibility," said Piallat.

The Golden Gate Restaurant Association says it too supports health care, but not being forced by the city to spend a specific amount per employee.

"It simply assigns responsibility to the employment community at what we feel is an unrealistic cost to pay for this program," said Kevin Westlye from the Golden Gate Restaurant Association.

On Monday, his association files a petition for a hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court. The city won before the court of appeals

"We're confident in our legal strategy, confident we'll prevail," said Mayor Newsom.

If the Supreme Court takes the case, the justices will announce that when their new term begins in October. Meantime, the Mayor's Office and the Golden Gate Restaurant Association are continuing to talk to try to come up with a compromise.

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