Court rejects challenge to 'Healthy SF' program


Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court, in the final day of its term, turned down a challenge by a business group over a requirement that companies with at least 20 employees either pay into the Healthy San Francisco program or provide their workers with health coverage.

The Golden Gate Restaurant Association sued in November of 2006 charging that the local employer spending requirements conflicted with federal law. While the case worked its way through the legal system, Healthy San Francisco continued.

State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, sponsored the legislation when he was a city supervisor.

"President Obama actually mentioned it as something that should be applauded," said Ammiano. "So I'm a very happy camper today."

City officials estimate there are 60,000 uninsured San Franciscans. As of June 4, 2010, 53,058 are enrolled in the program. They can go to 31 clinics for preventive and primary care and access eight hospitals for more serious medical needs.

In 2008-2009, Healthy San Francisco cost $126 million dollars to operate; the bulk of that money, $90 million came from city and county revenues, $14million was contributed by companies with 20 or more employees as the law requires, $3 million was given by patients who kick in on a sliding scale, and $19 million is federal money.

The restaurant association says the costs are a burden to an industry already struggling with the recession. Dan Schroetter, the owner of Palio D'Asti an Italian restaurant in the city's financial district, tells ABC7 he has had to lay off workers and outsource his pastry needs because of this and other city laws including mandatory sick leave and a high minimum wage.

"Whether you're going to close or you're going to lay off workers or you're going to raise prices, which is really hard to do in a recession," said Shroetter.

But Gus Medjool, owner of Medjool's in the Mission neighborhood, says offering employees health care is the right thing to do. Many restaurants have made up the cost by tacking a surcharge onto customers' bills specifying "Healthy San Francisco."

"Because the only way people are going to get the coverage they need and costs are going to come down, is if everyone participates," said Medjool's spokesperson P.J. Johnston.

Mayor Gavin Newsom calls Healthy San Francisco a model program for the nation and says it ultimately benefits business.

"You have a healthier population, which means you have a stronger more vibrant workforce, which means a more productive workforce," he said.

The program's critics say they support health coverage, just not the employer mandate, which the Supreme Court has let stand.

"There is no process from here," said Kevin Westlye with the Golden Gate Restaurant Association. "So we simply accept the Supreme Court's decision and move on."

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