Businesses Challenge San Francisco Health Care Program Mandate
The Golden Gate Restaurant Association on Friday is expected to file a legal motion charging San Francisco officials of violating federal law by forcing businesses to contribute toward a new program designed to provide access to health care services for all city residents, the San Francisco Examiner reports (Eslinger, San Francisco Examiner, 7/13).
Healthy San Francisco, formerly the Health Access Program, earlier this month began enrollment at two public health clinics in Chinatown. Full enrollment is scheduled to begin in January 2008.
The program is expected to cost $200 million annually and rely on mandatory contributions from businesses to help pay for the cost (California Healthline, 6/28).
Attorneys representing the restaurant group said the mandate violates the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, a federal law involving the regulation of employee health benefits.
Kevin Westlye, president of the association, said state or local laws -- such as the one that created Healthy San Francisco -- cannot pre-empt the federal ERISA law.
The City Attorney's Office on Friday also is required to file legal paperwork in defense of the mandatory contributions.
Vince Chhabria, deputy city attorney, said ERISA does not prevent the city from requiring business owners to pay a minimum amount for health coverage per employee.
Mayor Gavin Newsom (D) said the mandatory contributions are necessary to prevent businesses from using the universal program as an opportunity to stop providing coverage to employees.
A hearing for the lawsuit is scheduled for Aug. 31 (San Francisco Examiner, 7/13).