Enrollment Slow as San Francisco Health Care Program Expands
On Wednesday, San Francisco expanded its health care access program to more uninsured city residents, but enrollment estimates were low as the city awaits a decision on the legality of a key funding mechanism of the program, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
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.
Eligibility for the program was expanded Wednesday to those residents whose incomes do not exceed 300% of the federal poverty level.
Tangerine Brigham, director of Healthy San Francisco, attributed the low enrollment to the holiday season and confusion over a ruling last week that rejected the city's attempt to require employers to meet minimum contribution levels to employee health insurance benefits or help fund the program (Knight, San Francisco Chronicle, 1/3).
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, bars states and local governments from regulating employee benefits (California Healthline, 1/2).
City Attorney Dennis Herrera requested an emergency stay of the ruling from the Ninth U.S. Circuit of Appeals, a move that would permit the employer mandate to take effect while San Francisco appeals the decision.
Supervisor Tom Ammiano, who helped create the program, said the city has temporarily postponed marketing and promotional efforts while the court hears the case.
On Thursday, a three-judge panel is scheduled to determine whether to grant the emergency stay.
Brigham said the city will not be able to fully expand Healthy San Francisco to the remaining 26,000 uninsured city residents if it loses the appeal (San Francisco Chronicle, 1/3).
"While we wait for the courts to agree, we urge the Ninth Circuit to consider what's more important in the meantime -- the health and safety of San Francisco's uninsured residents, or the interests of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association?" a Chronicle editorial states. "San Francisco's appeal is going to be a testing ground for the kinds of problems that our leaders will face as they seek to expand insurance access," the editorial states.
"That appeal will be highly politicized. So in the meantime, the court should look out for the uninsured," the editorial concludes (San Francisco Chronicle, 1/3).