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Chamber of Commerce asks Mayor to form small business task force on health coverage

From the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce

November 23, 2005, 10:00 a.m.

San Francisco's business community -- lead by the Chamber of Commerce - today questioned Supervisor Tom Ammiano's proposed health care legislation, saying the measure was developed with little input from small businesses and no input from the business community at large and that it fails to take into account complex issues of availability and affordability.

The measure would eventually require San Francisco employers with 20 or more employees to pay a fee to provide health coverage to their employees. The money is then used to pay directly for insurance or to reimburse employees for health care costs. The amount of the fee has not been set but would be set by the Board of Supervisors. The legislation first calls for a task force made up of seven members appointed by the Board of Supervisors to study the amount of the fee for health care, as well as an additional fee to pay for the administration of the new law.

"The Chamber is a strong advocate for finding a way to extend coverage to San Francisco's uninsured workers, which is why we have been working for the past six months with the City, health care providers, major insurers and with businesses large and small to make health care both more accessible and more affordable," says Steve Falk, Chamber president & CEO.

"While we applaud Supervisor Ammiano's interest in extending health insurance to San Francisco's uninsured workers," says Falk, "we also understand the issue is complex and has as much to do with cost of care, encouraging workers to take advantage of programs that employers currently offer and availability of coverage to smaller businesses. Forcing employers to cover their employees may be the wrong approach. Mandates like this do little to address the problems of the uninsured because they provide a strong disincentive for businesses to create jobs."

"We would like to see a more inclusive process that draws on the expertise of the Small Business Commission, as well as a broad cross-section of community and business leaders to find a solution," Falk adds. "We encourage Mayor Newsom to intervene and establish a broader task force to study this issue and recommend workable solutions.

Small business leaders also questioned the timing of the legislation and the lack of input from what is arguably one of San Francisco's most important interest groups - businesses with 20 or more employees.

"This is simply outrageous," says David Heller, president of the Geary Boulevard Merchants Association. "The supervisor could have called all parties to the table to craft a solution that we could all live with; sneaking this in right before people leave for the holidays is devious and underhanded."

Before the legislation and its fees are implemented, San Francisco business owners are demanding a thorough economic analysis of the legislation, says Heller. Voter-approved Proposition I requires the city to study proposed legislation and report on the likely impact on the local economy, including an analysis of the likely impact of the legislation on the city's ability to attract and retain businesses and jobs.

A recent study by the Employment Policies Institute shows that those employees most likely to be harmed by mandated employer health care coverage are uneducated, minorities and single parents. The study also finds that among the uninsured, those with the lowest skills are earning the lowest wages and are disproportionately likely to lose their jobs as a result of a health insurance coverage mandate. These are the very groups that supporters of mandated healthcare often cite in support of their efforts.

For more information, contact Lisbet Sunshine, Chamber of Commerce Director of Public Policy, at 415-352-8844 or email lsunshine@sfchamber.com.




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