Newsom Discusses Employer-Sponsored, Universal Health Coverage in Interview
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom (D) in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle published Sunday said that he supports a law (SB 2) that will require some employers in the state to provide health insurance to their employees and their dependents (Howe et al., San Francisco Chronicle, 8/1). Under SB 2, which is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2006, employers with 200 or more employees will be required to provide health insurance to workers and their dependents by 2006 or pay into a state fund. Employers with 50 to 199 employees will have to provide health insurance only to workers by 2007. Companies with fewer than 20 workers will not have to comply with the law, and the law also will exempt employers with 20 to 49 workers unless the state provides them with tax credits to offset the cost of health coverage. Proposition 72, a referendum on whether to retain SB 2, will appear on the Nov. 2 statewide ballot (California Healthline, 7/26).
In the interview, Newsom said he "wear[s] two hats" on the issue -- representing his political and business views. Newsom said, "I support [the law] because I think it's the right thing to do because we have to expand health care to people who don't have it. I also understand the realities in small businesses, particularly as this fully phases in." Newsom said he hopes that requiring businesses in the state to provide health coverage "stirs a real national dialogue around the 44 million Americans who don't have health insurance."
Newsom said that San Francisco is the only city and county in the nation with a program that aims to provide universal health coverage for all residents younger than age 25, adding, "I think that's very business friendly." Newsom said that the city sets "an example for the rest of the country" (San Francisco Chronicle, 8/1).
Knight Ridder/San Bernardino County Sun last week examined the debate over Proposition 72 (Wells, Knight Ridder/San Bernardino County Sun, 7/26). Proposition 72 asks voters to approve or reject SB 2. If a majority of voters approves the proposition, SB 2 will be implemented. If the measure does not receive a majority approval, SB 2 will be repealed (California Healthline, 7/26).
Jot Condie, president of the California Restaurant Association and co-chair of Californians Against Government Run Healthcare, a campaign to repeal SB 2, said, "In our industry, we're in tough economic times but we won't dispute if health care is an issue. In our opinion, and the businesses we represent, this is the right problem, but the wrong solution."
Cliff Cummings, a car dealership owner in San Bernardino, said, "A lot of the small businesses can't afford this and a lot of the large businesses will likely leave the state. We need businesses to stay here and we need them to come in. But no businesses will bother if the whole package of California is so anti-business."
Ronald Bangasser, president of the California Medical Association and a physician at Redlands Community Hospital, said, "We're not asking employers to cover health [insurance costs] all by themselves. We are just saying that 80% of the health insurance be covered by the business and 20% by the employee. With the larger companies, we're asking them to cover the employee and the dependents." He said that the proposition could seem confusing to voters.
Jerry Flanagan, a spokesperson for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, said, "The cost of not providing health insurance could be as much as two to three times more than paying the premium when you consider loss of productivity" (Knight Ridder/San Bernardino County Sun, 7/26).
Additional information on SB 2 is available online.