City champions health care plan; S.F. businesses complain of cost

Mayor Gavin Newsom and Supervisor Tom Ammiano proudly announced a new plan to provide health care for San Francisco’s uninsured on Tuesday, but The City’s business community say they are being asked to pick up more than their fair share of the tab.

The subsidized health care would provide access to primary care as well as emergency services to the approximately 82,000 San Franciscans without health insurance.

Called the San Francisco Health Access Program, the new plan is not insurance, city officials emphasized, since health services are only available within San Francisco and through approved providers.

“Rather than lamenting about the fact that we live in a country with 45.8 million Americans without health insurance, San Francisco is doing something about it,” Newsom said.

The estimated cost to provide the Health Access Program for 82,000 individuals is $200 million — approximately $200 per person per month. More than half of San Francisco’s estimated uninsured have jobs, according to city data.

Individual participants would be required to pay into the plan — from $3 to $200 per month based on income — which is expected to provide $56 million.

The lion’s share of funding will come from The City, which plans to redirect approximately $104 million currently spent on the uninsured to help pay for the program.

San Francisco businesses with more than 20 employees, and nonprofits with more than 50 employees, will contribute a total of $31 million to the program, according to estimates from the City Controller’s Office.

Since Ammiano’s first draft of legislation, which was introduced last November and required businesses to pay approximately $345 per month for health care, members of San Francisco’s business community have been up in arms. The latest proposal requires a health care contribution for full-time employees of $273 per month from owners of large businesses, an amount they say still creates an untenable burden.

San Francisco Chamber of Commerce President Stephen Falk said The City’s small entrepreneurial businesses and the restaurant industry would be hardest hit by the required expenditures.

Laurie Thomas, owner of North Beach’s popular Rose Pistola and two other S.F. restaurants, said she already contributes to health insurance for employees who work more than 28 hours a week, but couldn’t afford to pay more.

Falk was one of 30-plus members of a blue-ribbon committee Newsom assembled to create a workable compromise to Ammiano’s initial proposal. Falk said the council — which included representatives from health care, business, labor and community organizations — never had a single discussion during its four months of meetings about how much businesses would be expected to contribute.

“They said, ‘Let’s get the health access program designed and then talk about the funding,’” he said.

The contribution will be required for part-time workers and employees who don’t live in San Francisco and there is no waiver for employees who receive coverage from a spouse or other source, according to the ordinance’s current draft.

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