Congressional Action Needed To Help Local Health Reform
City- and state-based efforts to expand health insurance coverage could be doomed in court challenges if Congress does not amend a 1974 federal law that governs regulation of employer health benefit plans, Laura Hermer, an attorney and assistant professor of bioethics and health policy at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, writes in a San Francisco Chronicle opinion piece.
San Francisco's universal health access program is one effort that could be derailed by a legal challenge based on the law, called the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, Hermer writes. A provision of the law creating the Healthy San Francisco program calls for mandatory employer contributions for businesses that do not meet certain spending thresholds on health care benefits. Hermer maintains that the provision likely will be struck down under ERISA when a court on Friday hears a challenge brought by the Golden Gate Restaurant Association.
Hermer calls for Congress to modify ERISA to let state and local governments establish requirements for employers to provide health insurance as part of larger coverage expansion efforts, noting that "laudable plans such as San Francisco's will not survive court challenges" otherwise (Hermer, San Francisco Chronicle, 11/2).