State allocates $71M for S.F. health care 

San Francisco was awarded $71 million in funding for its new universal health care access program, which is slated to start enrolling The City’s poorest uninsured residents in July.

The award, from the state Department of Health Services, will be allocated to The City in three annual payments, each close to $24.4 million.

Mike Bowman, a spokesman for the state, said San Francisco sent in "one of the better applications" with its proposal to increase health care for the uninsured.

Called the San Francisco Health Access Program, or SFHAP, the ambitious plan aspires to provide affordable health care access for The City’s 82,000 uninsured residents at an annual cost of approximately $200 million. City officials propose to fund the plan by redirecting $104 million already used for medical care of the uninsured, and asking program participants to contribute another $56 million in sliding-scale premiums and point-of-service fees. An additional $28 million a year is expected to come from The City’s businesses that have employees who do not have employer-provided health care.

Another $10 million for the program was sought in additional state and federal funds, so the $24.4 million annual allocation more than meets that need.

"We were going to make it work anyway," Mayor Gavin Newsom said. "This substantial sum of money will only make this process more robust and move this initiative forward much sooner than we expected."

Business leaders have said the required spending will create a hardship on employers, particularly small businesses, since employers with 20 or more workers will be required to invest $1.06 to $1.60 per employee for each hour worked for health care.

"The program doesn’t work unless there’s a minimum floor of business expenditures from the private sector, otherwise the business community will have a perverse incentive to get rid of their health insurance," Newsom said.

San Francisco’s Golden Gate Restaurant Association filed a lawsuit over the legislation, claiming the employer-spending mandate violates federal law. The case has not come to court yet,but Newsom said The City is still moving full speed ahead.

At a community meeting about the SFHAP on Tuesday, the chief of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, Mitch Katz, said a few people at the lowest income levels would be enrolled in the program in July and August, "just for practice." Another 1,500 to 3,000 persons would be enrolled every month following, he said.

A proposal announced in January by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to require all Californians to have health insurance and to subsidize coverage for the poor could also shift the amount of funding San Francisco receives for health care, as well as the number of uninsured.

beslinger@examiner.com

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