A federal judge will hear competing arguments on Aug. 31 on
the fate of a restaurant owners' lawsuit challenging part of San
Francisco's pioneering universal
health insurance plan.
The Golden Gate Restaurant Association has asked U.S. District
Judge Jeffrey White to overturn the plan's requirement for employer
contributions on the ground that it conflicts with a federal law.
The city, meanwhile, contends there is no conflict with the U.S.
law and has asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit.
The two sides filed their competing motions on Friday. White
will consider the two bids at the Aug. 31 hearing in his Federal
Building courtroom in San Francisco and is expected to issue a
written ruling within two weeks after that.
Beginning in January, employers will be required to contribute
either by spending a set amount per employee or by giving a similar
amount to the city program for uninsured people.
The amount is $1.17 per hour per employee for medium-sized businesses
with 20 to 99 workers and $1.76 per hour for large businesses
with staffs of more than 100.
The restaurant group contends that provision conflicts with the
federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA,
because the U.S. law is the exclusive regulator of employer health
The group's attorneys wrote in their brief that the city's requirements
conflict with ERISA "because they interfere with employers'
freedom to choose the level and administration of benefits provided
"This is an area reserved for purely federal regulation,"
the association said.
But City Attorney Dennis Herrera said the San Francisco plan
doesn't conflict with the law because employers are free either
to keep or modify an existing ERISA plan or to simply make payments
to the city.
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera
The city's brief argues the program was crafted to avoid giving
employers an incentive to drop health coverage and instead give
them credit for dollars they already spend.
Herrera said, "The creators of this ordinance were careful
to avoid ERISA preemption and we are confident the court will
White's future summary judgment ruling is expected to decide
the case because both sides have told the judge that there is
no dispute over facts that would need to be resolved at a trial.