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Newsom continues to evade issue of open dialogue

Restricts Mission District town hall meeting
to monologue lecture on healthcare access

Mayor Gavin Newsom reviews written questions from audience members at Cesar Chavez Elementary School during yesterday's Mission District Town Hall meeting.
Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

By Nevena Predolac

March 27, 2007

Yesterday's Mission District town hall meeting reaffirmed Mayor Gavin Newsom's failure and fear of complying with San Francisco constituent request that he answers questions in open chambers, to be held to account for his policies.

What was advertised to be a discussion turned into a 2-hour lecture at Cesar Chavez Elementary School on the subject of San Francisco's unprecedented Health Access Plan (SFHAP), originated by Supervisor Tom Ammiano in 2006, extending upon San Francisco's universal health access plan.

The mayor refused discussion on all other resident concerns.

"We want a town hall dialogue not a town hall lecture," yelled attendees, demanding to be heard on issues of their, not of the mayor's choice.

Several yellow feathered chicken protesters held signs saying "Mr Mayor, are you afraid to face questions about the issues?"

Between the outbursts of public protest, the mayor continued to promote these already highly publicized health plans.

82,000 people are currently uninsured in San Francisco, many of them living in the Mission District.

While the extended health coverage will provide those under the age of 25 with affordable insurance, SFHAP will grant access to medical free care for those who qualify.

There are no monthly premiums for SFHAP but the coverage is non-portable, available only to residents of San Francisco.

"This projects costs, lets say 200 million dollars, a lot of people are concerned how we're going to pay for it. Were going to pay for it by redirecting $104 million of existing health-care expenditures that comes from the city," Newsom said.

Private residents and businesses will share the rest of the financial burden, while state and federal money will account for the smallest part, about $10 million.

The Golden Gate Restaurant Association is suing the city to halt the employer contribution part of the plan and has threatened to shut down for one day in protest.

The patient co-pays for the health access plan are $10 for primary care, and up to $150 for emergency care.

"The reason why were doing that is that we want to incentivize primary care," Newsom explained. "We want to get you before that ulcer bursts."

The first phase of implementation of SFHAP will begin in June.

"We're going to implement slowly, responsibly, and with an eye to keeping our minds open to criticism and arguments," Newsom said.

Criticism and arguments did follow, often loudly, when the mayor refused demands to speak freely, and in person, without reading preferred questions from cards.

"We can go down the path of where we all feel good because we got something off our chest but we didn't get anything done, or we can go down the path where we have a constructive dialogue," Newsom responded to sounds of whistling discontent.

Most of those questions were redirected to the city's public health director, Dr. Mitch Katz.

Director of San Francisco’s Health Department Mitch Katz, M.D.

"This seems more like a staged campaign. An unscripted dialogue between the mayor and the supervisors would tell us more," Jeremy Pollack, a member of the Chicken Group said.

The mayor received a brief applause when he announced that SFHAP is also available to undocumented residents.

"We've got to encourage them to get into this program without fear and terror of believing that somehow this city is going to turn them in to the Feds," Newsom said.

San Francisco has pioneered these solutions and has been proclaimed a model city by Time Magazine, inspiring nation-wide health insurance reforms.

Newsom, when asked by reporters if he was considering a change in format, responded: "I don't think it was difficult at all. I thought we were able to answer over 60 questions... when you're able to answer over 60 questions from the audience, you're able to drill down on a topic in a more meaningful way."




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