Ruling on S.F. Health Care Plan Could Influence State Reform
Efforts to adopt a statewide health care reform plan could be strengthened if a federal court upholds a provision of a San Francisco law requiring businesses to contribute toward employee health insurance benefits or help fund a new program for uninsured residents, the Sacramento Bee reports (Rojas, Sacramento Bee, 1/13).
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.
Under the law establishing Healthy San Francisco, private employers with at least 20 employees and not-for-profit groups with at least 50 employees must spend a certain amount on health care, either in coverage for their workers or in payments to the city (California Healthline, 1/10).
Tangerine Brigham, director of Healthy San Francisco, said employers will finance about 6% of the program's overall cost, projected at $200 million annually.
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.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White, ruled in December 2007 that the provision violates ERISA, forcing the city to limit enrollment to a certain income level.
However, a federal appeals court ruled last week in favor of the employer contributions, allowing the employer-contribution mandate to take effect while the court hears an appeal of White's ruling.
The outcome of San Francisco's appeal is being watched closely by proponents of compromise health care reform legislation (ABX1 1) negotiated by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez (D-Los Angeles).
The plan would be financed partially through an employer pay-or-play mandate similar to the San Francisco program. Supporters of the bill maintain that it does not violate ERISA.
If the statewide plan becomes law, it likely would have to survive several legal challenges from business groups, according to the Bee (Sacramento Bee, 1/13).
The California Nurses Association launched a radio advertisement last week that criticizes the statewide reform plan for requiring most residents to obtain health insurance or face penalties, the Sacramento Bee's "Capitol Alert" reports.
The ad includes excerpts from a speech by presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who said, "The reason people don't have health insurance is because they can't afford it."
CNA would not comment on the ad (Sanders, Sacramento Bee, "Capitol Alert," 1/11).
Summaries of editorials regarding health care reform in California appear below.
- San Diego Union-Tribune: "14 months after Schwarzenegger's (health care reform) campaign began, there still hasn't been a single hearing exploring the basic details of the overhaul he secretly crafted with" Núñez, a Union-Tribune editorial states. Given "the complexity of the health overhaul, this lack of scrutiny is outrageous," according to the editorial (San Diego Union-Tribune, 1/14).
- Wall Street Journal: Senate President Pro Tempore Don Perata (D-Oakland) has "good reason" to be "leery of potential consequences for the state's general fund" if the health care reform plan becomes law, a Journal editorial states. Perata "supports comprehensive health reform but seems to be leaning toward prioritizing the" state's $14 billion budget deficit, the editorial states, adding that if "Schwarzenegger's stunt collapses only because of fiscal reality, that's good enough" (Wall Street Journal, 1/12).