Jan 4, 2008
San Francisco Chronicle: Health Care In The Balance
While we're waiting for the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to issue its decision as to whether the city of San Francisco will be allowed to do a full rollout of its universal health care plan on a temporary basis, a few words on why this case is so important - and so difficult - for San Francisco, California and the entire nation.
The case has been difficult on many levels - logistical, economic and legal. The three judges' comments Wednesday made it clear that the first ruling, by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White, was conflicted and confusing.
Even the city's opponents, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, conceded that their legal ground may be shaky. When the association's lawyer, Richard Rybicki, admitted that he agreed with the city's interpretation of its ordinance, Judge William Fletcher said this comment "takes away virtually all of Judge White's reasoning."
White's reasoning may not be rational, but then, the arguments against universal health care have never been about rationality. It makes no sense to have an unhealthy society when you can afford to have a healthy one, but for decades, the United States has resisted the basic idea that it is in our best interest to take care of our citizens when they become sick. For the most foolish of reasons, America consistently falls for the okeydoke when it comes to health care, believing that illness is someone else's problem and should be at someone else's expense.
And so now we have the Golden Gate Restaurant Association fighting against their members paying for employees' health care. They are correct in only one sense - it is unfair to ask San Francisco's restaurants to pay when no one else has to. But that reasoning should disappear soon, too. The state, which has been struggling to get its own universal health care plan off the ground all year, has been watching this case closely. While employers around the state are surely planning their legal strategies already, there's no reason to believe that they'll succeed in court.
"Massachusetts has an employer spending mandate but no one has challenged it," said Tangerine Brigham, director of San Francisco's health care plan. "The state of California won't necessarily end up in court like this."
And in 2009, the entire country may be finally looking at a federalized solution to our health care nightmares. That's still a ways away. But the fights that looming date will precipitate make it all the more important for San Franciscans to stay vigilant about the success of their city's plan.