Supreme Court rejects Healthy SF challenge

Zazie was one restaurant whose owners opposed the GGRA's challenge of Healthy San Francisco.

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided not to consider a challenge to the Healthy San Francisco program that provides low-cost health coverage to city residents, partially funded by employers who refuse to provide health insurance for their employees, a mandate that prompted a lawsuit from the Golden Gate Restaurant Association.

The decision was a big victory for low-wage workers in the city, as well as California Assembly member Tom Ammiano, who was the driving force behind the program as a member of the Board of Supervisors, taking abuse from the business community for almost a year and holding firm on the need for employers to take responsibility for their employees. Without that mandate, Ammiano successfully argued, businesses that didn't offer health benefits would enjoy a competitive advantage and their employees' health care costs would often end up be paid by city taxpayers.

"Today’s Supreme Court decision is an affirmation of San Francisco’s landmark efforts to provide affordable health care to the uninsured. With over 50,000 people receiving health care services and prescription drugs, Healthy San Francisco is a national model for what can be accomplished when the public and private sector work in partnership towards a common goal”, Ammiano said in a prepared statement.

Mayor Gavin Newsom was eventually persuaded to support the mandate and he worked with Ammiano in crafting the final program, which he has since trumpeted as his own while campaigning for governor and then lieutenant governor, for which he won the Democratic nomination.

“The Supreme Court’s rejection of the challenge to Healthy San Francisco is a victory for the 53,000 San Franciscans who have healthcare today through our groundbreaking universal healthcare program. Healthy San Francisco is a model for healthcare reform that works. The High Court’s decision today ensures we can continue providing health care coverage to thousands who would otherwise go without care,” Newsom said in a prepared statement.

Newsom is a former restauranteur and GGRA member, but he did little to dissuade the group from bringing the lawsuit or in urging them to drop it. Many restaurants in San Francisco have taken to adding surcharges on customers' bills, explicitly citing the increased cost of offering health insurance. But no restaurants that I know of include explicit surcharges for the membership dues they pay to GGRA or the extra contributions some restaurants made to continue pushing this lawsuit after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the city's favor.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who personally lobbied the Obama Administration to change the federal government stance on whether employer mandates violate federal law, also released a statement thanking the relevant players and singling out businesses that opposed the GGRA lawsuit: "I applaud Assemblymember Tom Ammiano and Mayor Gavin Newsom for their leadership in crafting this policy.  We should be very thankful to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, too, whose thorough decision powerfully affirmed our arguments that Healthy San Francisco's spending provisions were reasonable, fair and legal.  I would finally express my gratitude to all those from the business community who voiced their support for this program -- especially Zazie and Medjool Restaurants, and Nibbi Construction, which filed amicus briefs on our behalf."