D-day arrives for HealthySF

The city requirement that employers spend money on health care for employees goes before a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel today as local businesses go into a holding pattern before they commit funds to The City’s universal health care program.

The health care security ordinance, which is expected to contribute $28 million to the $196 million Healthy San Francisco plan, requires employers to either pay an amount based on the hours an employee works, or purchase a health care plan.

The Golden Gate Restaurant Association challenged the requirement, and in December 2007 federal Judge Jeffrey White ruled against the plan. Several weeks later, however, a three-judge panel on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued an emergency stay, allowing The City to enforce the spending requirement.

Today in Pasadena, the same panel — Judges Alfred Goodwin, Stephen Reinhardt and William Fletcher — will hear arguments onthe association’s appeal of the stay. A ruling could come within a month, said Kevin Westlye, executive director of the restaurant association.

The goal for the association’s attorneys is to separate the universal health care program from the employer spending mandate, Westlye said.

Vincent Chhabria, a deputy city attorney, will argue before the panel that although local governments are not allowed to force employers to adopt health care plans, local governments can require spending if it brings businesses into compliance.

“If they prefer not to create their own [health care] plan, they can simply pay The City,” Chhabria said.

Businesses, which have expressed confusion about how to comply with the ordinance since the stay was issued in January, are taking a wait-and-see approach, Mayor Gavin Newsom said.

“I’ve heard a lot of people are waiting for [today] before they really decide what they do,” Newsom said.

Carol Piasente, spokeswoman for the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, said she’s heard that some businesses are not signing up for the HealthySF care plan, but are using other options such as medical reimbursement accounts.

dsmith@examiner.com

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