Court Seems To Favor Employer Funding for S.F. Health Access Plan
On Thursday, a three-judge panel appeared likely to uphold a provision of San Francisco's health care access program that would require employers to spend a certain amount on health care, either in coverage for their workers or in payments to the city, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 1/4).
The Healthy San Francisco program is intended to ensure access to health care services at San Francisco clinics and the city's public hospital for San Francisco's 73,000 uninsured residents (California Healthline, 1/3).
The panel of judges from the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals seemed skeptical of U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White's decision to prevent the Healthy San Francisco program from requiring employers to meet minimum contribution levels to employee health insurance benefits or help fund the program.
Without funding from employers, the city lacks the funds to expand the program to all uninsured residents (San Francisco Chronicle, 1/4).
The Golden Gate Restaurant Association challenged the employer contribution provision of the law, arguing that it violates the 1974 federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act. The law, called ERISA, governs regulation of employee benefits.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera requested an emergency stay of the ruling from the appellate court in an effort to enforce the employer mandate during the appeals process (California Healthline, 1/3).
The Chronicle reports that the three-judge panel gave "mixed signals" on whether it would grant the emergency stay, but their questions and comments during the hearing suggested that they would side with the city on the outcome of the case.
The city's appeal of White's ruling will be heard by the court later this year, possibly in a different three-judge panel.
The judges' decision also could determine the legality of a statewide health care reform plan backed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez (D-Los Angeles). That plan also would require employers to meet certain spending levels on employee health benefits or pay into a state fund.
"The three judges' comments Wednesday made it clear that the first ruling" by Judge White "was conflicted and confusing," a Chronicle editorial states. "The state, which has been struggling to get its own universal health care plan off the ground all year, has been watching this case closely," the editorial states.
"While employers around the state are surely planning their legal strategies already, there's no reason to believe that they'll succeed in court," the editorial states (San Francisco Chronicle, 1/4).
KQED's "This Week in Northern California" on Friday is scheduled to include a report on Healthy San Francisco ("This Week in Northern California" Web site, 1/4).
Additional details about the segment are available online. Broadcast information is available on the program's Web site.