Health law plan appeals to San Francisco businesses

Dueling proposals have emerged to amend part of San Francisco’s landmark universal health care program, intensifying a debate over how hundreds of businesses must change the way they meet the mandate.

A hearing could come as soon as next week over amendments to the Health Security Ordinance, a groundbreaking program to ensure all San Franciscans have access to health services. At issue are the rules regulating medical reimbursement accounts, which is one way hundreds of businesses meet San Francisco’s mandate that employers must spend a minimum amount on workers’ health costs.

On Tuesday, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu introduced an alternative to legislation previously brought by Supervisor David Campos. Campos’ legislation is being blasted by business advocacy groups who say it goes too far and will lead to job losses.

Chiu said his proposal would “accomplish the main goals” of the Campos legislation “without dramatically increasing costs for businesses that are often struggling to stay afloat during this economy.”

Instead of requiring the funds to accumulate in health accounts under Campos’ proposal, Chiu’s would require a year’s worth at any given time. The legislation also requires employers to notify workers of their right to these benefits. And restaurants that place a surcharge on customers’ bills to pay the health costs must report to The City how much is collected each year.

Campos remained committed to adopting his proposal. He called Chiu’s a “nonstarter.” “That doesn’t go far enough,” Campos said.

He said a year’s worth of contributions for a full-time worker can reach $4,000, which would only cover a one-day hospital stay.

The debate began when a recent city report found that in 2010, 80 percent of medical reimbursement account funds – or $50.1 million — were not spent on employees’ medical costs, but instead returned to employers.

Campos said he has six votes to pass his own proposal. Mayor Ed Lee has yet to take an official position on Campos’ bill. Business advocates said they would ask Lee to veto it. It would take eight votes to reject a mayoral veto.

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