S.F.’s affordable health care ready for soft launch

A new program to ensure that every San Franciscan has access to affordable health care will begin enrolling its first patients next week at two Chinatown public health centers.

San Francisco made national headlines when the program was announced last year, and received recent praise from filmmaker Michael Moore, who came to The City last week to promote his latest documentary, “Sicko,” an indictment of the American health care system.

Authored by Supervisor Tom Ammiano and backed by Mayor Gavin Newsom, the plan, recently renamed Healthy San Francisco, offers access to health care — at a sliding-scale cost — to all 82,000 uninsured San Francisco residents, regardless of income, immigration status or pre-existing medical conditions.

The $196 million program will be predominantly funded by redirecting existing Health Department resources, but The City is banking on $28 million a year to come from business owners who are not providing health care to their employees and approximately $56 million to be raised through sliding-scale monthly fees and co-payments from participants.

For example, under Healthy San Francisco, an uninsured city resident making $30,000 a year, working at a medium-size San Francisco company, would be asked to pay $25 per month for the program, and their employer would be required to contribute $187 per month.

Business leaders have protested the mandated spending, which requires all employers with 20 workers or more to invest $1.17 to $1.85 for each employee hour worked for health care. San Francisco’s Golden Gate Restaurant Association sued over the legislation, claiming the employer-spending mandate violates federal law. The lawsuit is still pending.

After next week’s limited launch, The City will begin a broader rollout of Healthy San Francisco in September, mostly with current Department of Public Health clients. In January 2008, full enrollment will begin.

beslinger@examiner.com

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