Ammiano’s health plan for city’s uninsured gets hearing 

The public weighed in Wednesday on the latest version of a plan to provide health care for San Francisco’s uninsured residents.

Under a proposal sponsored by Supervisor Tom Ammiano, businesses with 100 or more employees would have to pay an average of $273 per month for subsidized health care for each full-time employee, an amount some businesses say will force them out of the market.

Employers would be required to invest the calculated amount in one of four ways: it could be paid to an employee as reimbursement for medical services, put into a health savings accounts that each employee can use, paid to insurance or other third party that provides health care services, or paid to The City to fund a newly announced, city-run health care system announced by Mayor Gavin Newsom and Ammiano on Tuesday.

The new system, called the San Francisco Health Access Program, aims to provide access to primary care as well as emergency services to the approximately 82,000 San Franciscans without health insurance, more than half of whom have jobs.

At a committee meeting Wednesday, business owners such as Andrew Gillen, of Q Restaurant on Clement Street, said they wanted all of their employees to have health insurance but couldn’t afford to pick up the tab without passing on the price to customers or risk going out of business.

The amount contributed by businesses would make up $28 million of the $200 million officials say is needed for the new system, with The City and individuals contributing to the total.

TJ Johnson, a 40-year-old resident who works 20 to 40 hours a week for a local telephone research firm, said he has worked his entire adult life without health insurance and worries about the day when his good health fails him.

"I consider myself working on borrowed time," he said.

Ed Kinchley, a social worker in the emergency ward of San Francisco General Hospital, said he deals with "dozens of patients everyday" who come in for treatment without money to pay for the care they need.

San Francisco Chamber of Commerce Vice President Jim Lazarus noted after the meeting that while businesses would be expected to pay for health care for all employees, only San Francisco residents would be eligible for The City’s new health plan. In addition, no credit would be given to employers if they paid more than the required minimum for their employees’ current coverage.

On Monday, the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee is expected to hold a full hearing on the funding legislation, which Ammiano said has already been co-sponsored by seven of his board colleagues.

beslinger@examiner.com

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