Restaurant group: ‘You can’t mandate health benefits’

Lawyers representing San Francisco’s restaurant owners will file a legal motion today charging that The City’s new universal health care ordinance violates federal law by forcing San Francisco businesses to spend money on health care for all employees.

Representatives for the Golden Gate Restaurant Association say the San Francisco Health Care Security Ordinance violates the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA, a federal law that regulates the management of employee benefits.

A state or local law cannot preempt the federal law, said Kevin Westlye, president of the association.

“You can’t mandate health benefits, you can’t mandate the administration of benefits,” Westlye said.

The City Attorney’s Office is also required to file its legal paperwork today in defense of the ordinance. The restaurant group’s filing today lays the groundwork for an Aug. 31 hearing for the previously filed lawsuit.

Thedeputy city attorney working on the case, Vince Chhabria, said ERISA prohibits state and local municipalities from dictating the structure of a company’s health plan, but it doesn’t prevent The City from requiring business owners to pay a minimum amount, per employee, for health coverage.

The City began implementing the Healthy San Francisco plan last week by enrolling a limited number of patients. A full enrollment is scheduled for January.

Mayor Gavin Newsom said the mandated spending — requiring all employers with 20 workers or more to invest $1.17 to $1.85 for each employee hour worked for health care — was necessary in order to prevent businesses from looking at The City’s new universal health program as an opportunity to stop providing health benefits to employees.

beslinger@examiner.com

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