Two San Francisco eateries broke ranks with a restaurant association today and asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reject the group’s appeal of a health spending mandate.

The two bistros, Zazie and Medjool, filed an advisory brief opposing the Golden Gate Restaurant Association’s bid for high court review of part of San Francisco’s pioneering health care plan.

Zazie and Medjool argued in their friend-of-the-court brief that the plan enables them “to act responsibly by providing health insurance coverage for employees while maintaining their ability to compete economically.”

Zazie is a French restaurant in the Cole Valley District of the city and Medjool is a tapas cafe in the Mission District.

Their lawyers wrote that the plan’s employer spending mandate is “grounded in sound policy with real benefits to employers, employees and the public.”

The city program, known as Healthy San Francisco, aims to provide coordinated health care to an estimated 60,000 uninsured residents who aren’t covered by other government programs.

It requires businesses to pay part of the cost–an estimated $14 million out of $200 million annually–by either setting up a health insurance plan for their workers or paying the city a fee.

The restaurant association is appealing a ruling in which the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year upheld the spending mandate.

The organization contends the requirement violates a federal law that regulates employee benefit plans.

It argued in a petition to the court in June that the requirement is a burden on businesses, is inefficient and would lead to a confusing “patchwork quilt of mandates” nationwide.

The Supreme Court is expected to announce sometime this fall whether it will review the case. The court accepts only about 1 percent of the appeals it receives.

At the time it filed its lawsuit challenging the plan in 2006, the association had a membership of about 800 Bay Area restaurants.

Zazie and Medjool contend in their brief that the group “does not represent the interests of all restaurants in San Francisco.”

Medjool is a member of the association but disagrees with its position, the brief said.
The city of San Francisco, which filed its opposition to the appeal today, was also supported in a second friend-of-the-court brief filed by Nibbi Brothers Associates Inc., a construction contractor.

On the other side, the association’s appeal was supported in briefs filed last month by several industry groups, including the Society for Human Resources Management, the Retail Industry Leaders Association and the American Benefits Council. The council advocates voluntary rather than mandatory employer-sponsored benefit plans.

The law’s spending mandate currently requires businesses with 20 to 99 workers to spend $1.23 per hour per worker on either a health plan or fees to the city. Companies with staffs of more than 100 must pay $1.85 per hour. The amount rose slightly in 2009.

Other funding for the program is provided by city, state and local governments and a sliding fee for patients.

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