Health plan doesn’t threaten Healthy S.F.

News that the state is moving toward a plan to provide universal health coverage would not spell the end of The City’s Healthy San Francisco health care program, according to city officials.

San Francisco made national headlines when its program was announced last year. Since its start in July, 6,500 residents who are at or below the federal poverty level have been enrolled in the program. San Francisco has an estimated 82,000 residents who do not have health insurance.

The $14.7 billion statewide proposal would only cover roughly two-thirds of the state’s uninsured, according to Tangerine Brigham, the director of policy and planning for the San Francisco Department of Public Health. As a result, there would still be a need for The City’s program to provide options for undocumented residents, she said.

“Given the proposal as it is, Healthy San Francisco would still need to be in existence to cover those individuals who are ineligible,” Brigham said.

On Monday, the state Assembly passed a health care reform bill that expands coverage to more than 3 million Californians, including all children, but several obstacles, including a Senate vote expected after the holidays and voter approval, remain.

Funding for the reform would require a ballot initiative next year for a new hospital tax, an increase in the tobacco tax and employer contributions that could range up to 6.5 percent of payroll.

Mayor Gavin Newsom said he had some “big questions” about the proposal but declined to reveal them before he had more details.

San Francisco’s $200 million program is budgeted to receive approximately 15 percent of its funding from employers who have uninsured workers. Businesses will be required to invest up to $1.85 per hour worked for each employee, depending on the size of the business. The employer-spending mandate is facing a legal challenge in federal court from a San Francisco restaurant association.

The employer-spending mandate goes into effect for medium and larger businesses on Jan. 1. Small businesses of fewer than 20 workers are exempt from any city-mandated spending but not from the state’s plan.

For city businesses, the state’s health care reform proposal, with its 6.5 percent mandate, “would be significantly less costly” than The City’s, Senior Vice President of Public Policy for the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce Jim Lazarus said. The Chamber of Commerce has endorsed the state program “in principle.”

“We’re looking now with our members as to whether or not this [state] sliding scale ends up being reasonable for the vast majority of our employers,” Lazarus said.

dsmith@examiner.com

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