The U.S. Supreme Court today asked the Obama administration to state its position on whether the court should review a restaurant group’s challenge to San Francisco’s universal health care program.

The city’s program, called Healthy San Francisco, provides coordinated health care to thousands of residents who aren’t covered by other government programs. The program went into effect last year.

It requires that businesses pay part of the cost by either setting up a health insurance plan for their workers or by paying the city a fee.

On June 8, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the requirement that businesses help pay for the program.

The group claimed in its petition to the court that the mandate violates a federal law that states that benefit programs should be imposed on a national basis, not by state or local governments.

The high court today asked Solicitor General Elena Kagan to give her opinion on the issue.
Beverly Lumpkin, a spokesman for Kagan, said, “We will review the case and file our opinion in due course.”

“We will respond in a respectful manner,” Lumpkin said.

Golden Gate Restaurant Association Executive Director Kevin Westlye said he thinks the fact that the Supreme Court is asking for the solicitor general’s opinion is “a great indication of their interest in the case.”

“We’re very optimistic they will take the case,” Westlye said.

Westlye noted that lawyers in the Bush administration filed briefs opposing San Francisco’s program.

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera hopes the Obama administration will take a different approach.

“The Bush Labor Department’s position was not simply wrong as a matter of law, it was wrong for fundamentally ignoring the urgent need for health care reform,” he said.

Herrera said, “I am hopeful that the new administration will not take such a knee-jerk position, but will instead thoroughly review the legal and policy implications of the case.”

Lumpkin said there’s no time limit for the solicitor general to give an opinion. Westlye said he’s been told by his group’s attorneys that the solicitor general normally responds within 30 days.

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