Healthy S.F. may land in high court

While the nearly three-year legal battle over the employer-spending mandate for The City’s affordable health care program waits upon a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, business owners continue to pay.

In November 2006, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association sued The City in U.S. District Court, seeking to invalidate a mandate within San Francisco’s newly passed Health Care Security Ordinance requiring medium- and large-sized companies to pay a minimum amount for employee health care or pay into a city fund that provides health care to uninsured residents.

In June 2009, in response to a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against the association of local restaurant
owners, the GGRA filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court to review the matter.

On Monday, the high court postponed an expected decision while asking the Obama administration to offer its opinion on whether it should take up the case.

Economy-battered restaurants in The City cannot afford the mandate for the program, called Healthy San Francisco, and have had to lay off staff, shrink schedules or hike menu prices in order to make ends meet, according to Golden Gate Restaurant Association Executive Director Kevin Westlye.

Westlye said the ongoing legal challenge has been difficult, but called it a matter of “survival.”

“The legal system is comprehensive, [and] time consuming,” said Westlye, who vowed that the group would “continue to follow it through to its end.”

Officials with the offices of the mayor and city attorney said they were pleased that Solicitor General Elena Kagan of the Obama administration would get to weigh in on the case. The Bush Administration had filed briefs opposing the city program in the lower courts.

“The Obama Administration has praised Healthy San Francisco,” said Nathan Ballard, spokesman for Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office. “And so we have reason to be cautiously optimistic that the solicitor general may have a favorable view of it as well.”

Westlye said he was also pleased that the Supreme Court asked the solicitor general for an opinion.

“I think it indicates that the Supreme Court has an interest in our case,” he said.

Although there is no formal deadline for Kagan to file her brief, Matt Dorsey, spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera, said, “We would probably expect to see a filing before December.”

Healthy S.F.

About The City’s public health care program:

73,000
Estimated city residents who were uninsured prior to Healthy S.F.

46,847
Uninsured residents now enrolled in Healthy S.F.

52%
Males enrolled in program

48%
Females

$54,150
Highest income one person can bring in annually to be eligible for Healthy S.F.

$110,250

Maximum annual income for a family of four to be eligible for Healthy S.F.

Source: City of San Francisco

maldax@sfexaminer.com

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