Sup. David Chiu has blocked a health-care reform bill from advancing to the full Board of Supervisors. And it's particularly ironic since he's a cosponsor of the measure.
The bill, by Sup. David Campos, is a key labor priority this year. It modifies the Healthy San Francisco program, which requires businesses with more than 20 employees to either offer health insurance, pay about $1.09 an hour into a fund for the city's own health-care system, or set aside money to reimburse workers for health-care expenses. The last option is the least effective; asthe Chron points out
Part of the problem, said Matt Goldberg of the city's labor office, is that some individual employers tailor their plans so restrictively that it's difficult for workers to tap into their accounts. At some businesses, he said, employees can't get reimbursed for such expenses as dental work and health insurance premiums.
The other part of the problem: Employers set aside the money, and at the end of the year, if the workers haven't used it, they simply take it back. The payments (which, frankly, are an alternative to benefits that an employee would consider part of his or her compensation) don't roll over to the next year. Campos wants to change that (and in the process, perhaps, discourage businesses from using the benefits-account option, which doesn't work very well for employees). The bill would require businesses to make the money they put aside in one year available for the next year.
The Chamber of Commerce hates it, of course, but Campos had six co-sponsors. Until July 14.
At the Government Audit and Oversight Committee, Campos -- the committtee chair -- sought to get the bill approved and sent on to the full board. Committee member Mark Farrell, of course, opposes it, so the swing vote was the third committee member, Chiu -- who, to the surprise of Campos, insisted on holding it in committee.
Chiu told me that he still supports the idea of the legislation, but thinks it needs a little more work, and that it's better to amend bills in committee than send them on to the full board with changes pending. His main concern, he said, was potential job loss.
The city's economist, Ted Egan, concluded that there could be job loss -- but not really. What he said was that the city could expect 20,000 new jobs next year, and 15,000 the year after -- but this legislation might mean a loss of as many as 400. So instead of 20,000 new jobs, SF might wind up with 19,600. Since the 20,000 is clearly an estimate, the actual impact seems pretty minor. Chiu told me that 400 jobs lost out of 700 businesses wasn't minor -- but the reality is that this isn't a huge economic deal for the businesses. Just for the employees.
Campos said he thinks Chiu "wants to water it down."
Henoted: "from a public policy standpoint, the Health Care Security law was designed to relieve the burden on the taxpayers of coveirng the costs of uninsured employees, who wind up at the public hospital emergency room." He noted that the health care accounts, which can amount to about $4,000 a year, are of only limited use for a lot of people -- "that doesn't even cover one night in the hospital." (Tell me about it -- when I broke my hand, I wasn't even in the hospital overnight, but I had two surgeries, one to put pins in the bone and one to take them out, and the cost, before my insurance payments, was close to $20,000. I'd still be typing with one hand if I didn't have real insurance.)
"I don't know what the hesitation is," Campos said. "That money is for the workers, it belongs to the workers, and in some restaurants, customers are being asked to pay extra fees to cover the cost of healthcare that isn't being provided. The businesses that play by the rules are at a competitive disadvantage."
It takes four votes to pull a measure out of committee and bring it to the board. Campos so far has three -- himself, John Avalos and Eric Mar. I'll keep you posted.
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