The Obama administration urged the U.S. Supreme Court today not to review a restaurant group’s appeal of an employer spending mandate in the city of San Francisco’s pioneering health care program.
The U.S. Solicitor General’s Office said in a brief filed with the court that the health care reform law passed by Congress in March “has dramatically changed the landscape governing payment for health care.”
Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal wrote that provisions of the federal law promoting greater access to health care make it less likely that other cities or states will enact measures like San Francisco’s.
As a result, Katyal said in the brief, the issues in the case have become less important nationally and the high court’s review of the dispute “is not warranted at this time.”
Katyal said a second reason to deny review is that federal agencies and lower courts have not yet addressed questions about how the U.S. law affects local measures, thus making it premature for the high court to step into such cases.
The Supreme Court accepts only about 1 percent of the cases appealed to it for review.
In the current appeal, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association contends the employer spending mandate in the city’s Healthy San Francisco program is illegal because it conflicts with a federal law regulating employee benefit plans.
The program aims to provide coordinated health care to uninsured residents who aren’t covered by other government programs. About 53,000 people have enrolled in the program thus far.
Businesses are required to pay part of the cost–an estimated $14 million out of $200 million annually–by either providing a health insurance plan for their workers or paying a fee directly to the city.
The restaurant group appealed to the Supreme Court last year after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the measure in 2008.
In October, the high court asked the Solicitor General’s Office, which represents the U.S. government in Supreme Court cases, to file a brief stating the government’s position.
That brief, asking the court to deny review of the appeal, was submitted today. Katyal became acting solicitor general last month after President Obama nominated Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court.
A spokesman for the restaurant group was not immediately available for comment.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera said, “I am grateful to the Obama administration for urging the U.S. Supreme Court to deny review and effectively end this legal attack on San Francisco’s universal health care program.”
Herrera said, “At this point, I think it would be hard to imagine the high court reaching out to undermine a local program that works for thousands of families who would otherwise go without health care.”
The city law requires businesses with 100 or more employees to spend $1.76 per hour per worker on either a health plan or fees to the city. Those with staffs of 20 to 99 must pay $1.17 per hour.
Other funding for the program is provided by city, state and local governments and a sliding fee for patients.