Confusion arises for businesses as HealthySF takes effect

Amid a pending court case and confusion about the law, HealthySF is set for its last rollout to require businesses to pay for employees’ health care or contribute to The City’s universal health care program.

On Tuesday, businesses with 20 to 49 employees must begin calculating the hours employees work because the employer spending mandate that helps fund San Francisco’s universal health care program requires businesses to either pay The City an amount based on the hours an employee worked or purchase a health care plan.

Businesses with 20 to 49 employees must either make a first payment or have a health care plan by June 30, said Joannie Chang, a contract compliance officer with the City Office of Labor Standards. Businesses with 50 or more employees began calculating employee work hours Jan. 9, and they must have a plan or contribute by April 30, Chang said.

Adopted in 2006, the ordinance provides sliding-scale health care for The City’s estimated 73,000 uninsured. The $200 million HealthySF program, which was expanded at the beginning of this year to include uninsured San Franciscans earning up to 300 percent more than the federal poverty line, receives local, state and federal dollars in addition to the employer spending requirement. City officials have said they expect to receive $28 million annually from businesses not providing health care to employees.

The Golden Gate Restaurant Association filed a lawsuit against The City challenging the legality of the spending mandate, and the two sides will see each other in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for oral arguments April 17.

Restaurants have already begun either swallowing the costs, increasing food prices or placing a surcharge on customers’ bills to pay for additional expenses.

Kevin Westlye, executive director of the GGRA, said there is still quite a bit of confusion and indecision on the part of businesses about what to do.

“There’s still eight, 10, 12 calls a day into our office” asking how to comply, Westlye said.

dsmith@examiner.com

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