California Restaurant Association Asks U.S. Supreme Court To Weigh Employer Mandate Question

A California Restaurant Association has asked the Supreme Court to rule on the legality of San Francisco's mandate that employers pay for health care coverage for employees, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

"The city's first-of-its-kind universal health care program, dubbed Healthy San Francisco, began two years ago and requires that employers with at least 20 employees provide health insurance, set up health care spending accounts or pay into the city's fund. Kevin Westlye, director of the restaurant association, said the fees are incredibly burdensome on restaurant owners - and pointed to the recent failure of two restaurants in Mayor Gavin Newsom's PlumpJack Group as proof." The group, Golden Gate Restaurant Association, has joined others in saying that officials' interest in creating business and jobs conflicts with the burden the mandate places on them.

The association lost its case last fall in federal appeals court and negotiations to come to a compromise have been unfruitful so far. San Francisco Public Health Chief Mitch Katz said the association wants changes that go beyond health care issues: "'I'm disappointed because here we have a program that's already covered more than two-thirds of all the uninsured in San Francisco and is being hailed as a national model, and they're trying to block it.' (San Francisco Mayor Gavin) Newsom has made Healthy San Francisco, which now provides care for 41,000 people, a centerpiece of his run for governor. His press secretary, Nathan Ballard, said the mayor understands the restaurant owners' concerns, but is committed to universal health care."

The Association says its petition focuses mainly on whether the city's Healthy San Francisco program conflicts with the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act that governs benefit programs. The court could decide in October or November whether to hear the case, with a decision on the issue coming in JuneĀ  2010 (Knight, 6/9).

This is part of Kaiser Health News' Daily Report - a summary of health policy coverage from more than 300 news organizations. The full summary of the day's news can be found here and you can sign up for e-mail subscriptions to the Daily Report here. In addition, our staff of reporters and correspondents file original stories each day, which you can find on our home page.