Though San Francisco’s health care ordinances unaffected, Affordable Care Act should eventually relieve local financial burdens
SAN FRANCISCO (June 28, 2012) — By a 5-to-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court this morning upheld President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, preserving under federal taxing authority an individual health insurance mandate that had been a central point of contention in the two-year-old federal legal challenge. The high court ruling also preserved a key provision that will expand eligibility for Medicaid, which in California is known as Medi-Cal.
The ruling’s positive effect in San Francisco will be to enable significant numbers of residents whose health care options are currently limited to such local health care programs as Healthy San Francisco to become eligible for more advantageous federal health care options, including the California Health Benefits Exchange and Medi-Cal. Healthy San Francisco and other local health care programs are substantially unaffected by today’s ruling, though implementation of federal health care reform is expected to relieve financial burdens the City currently carries to provide its residents with a comprehensive health care safety net.
In response to today’s ruling, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera issued the following statement:
“When opponents of health care reform challenged San Francisco’s program, they argued the health care crisis was a national problem that could only be tackled by the federal government. These same people were trying to convince the Supreme Court that the federal government lacks the power to address the health care crisis in a meaningful way. I’m thankful the Court refused to buy into this hypocrisy, and allowed Congress to do its job of fixing our broken health care system. By affirming the federal government’s power to act, we can begin to improve health care security for millions of families, and start relieving burdens that local governments shouldn’t have had to shoulder. Still, this should give San Franciscans new reason to be thankful for the leadership of Assemblymember Tom Ammiano and Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom six years ago, when they created San Francisco’s Health Care Security Ordinance. That safety net will continue to serve thousands of San Franciscans, while federal reform affords new options to millions nationwide.”
Herrera’s office played a key role in helping craft and defend the legality of San Francisco’s groundbreaking local health care reform law beginning in 2006. The City and County of San Francisco’s health care safety net provides access to primary and preventive care to tens of thousands of individuals who would otherwise be uninsured.
San Francisco’s Legal Battle for Health Care Security
Two years ago to the day, the U.S. Supreme Court denied review to a legal challenge to a key provision of “Healthy San Francisco,” conclusively ending a contentious four-year attack aimed at gutting the City’s popular universal health care program. At issue in the litigation brought by Golden Gate Restaurant Association in 2006 was whether the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA, preempted local laws such as San Francisco’s from requiring ongoing employer spending for employee health benefits, or alternative payments to a local government. In rejecting GGRA’s petition for review on the last day of the Supreme Court’s 2009-10 term, the high court effectively sustained a Sept. 30, 2008 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling upholding the legality of the City’s employer spending requirement for health care.
The case is Golden Gate Restaurant Association v. City and County of San Francisco et al., Supreme Court of the United States, Case No. 08-1515. A timeline of key events in that case follows:
* July 25, 2006: San Francisco Board of Supervisors passes legislation sponsored by Supervisor Tom Ammiano, the San Francisco Health Care Security Ordinance on a 10 to 0 vote (File No. 051919. Ordinance 218-06).
* Aug. 4, 2006: Mayor Gavin Newsom signs ordinance into law.
* Nov. 8, 2006: Golden Gate Restaurant Association sues in U.S. District Court, seeking to invalidate the employer spending requirements of the City’s ordinance on federal preemption grounds (that it violates the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA)
* March 1, 2007: Local labor unions (San Francisco Central Labor Council, SEIU Local 1021, SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West, and UNITE-HERE! Local 2) move to intervene in case as defendants.
* April 2, 2007: City amends Ordinance to defer implementation of employer provisions until Jan. 1, 2008 for employers with fifty or more employees; and until April 1, 2008 for employers with twenty to forty-nine employees.
* April 5, 2007: U.S. District Court grants unions’ motion to intervene.
* July 13, 2007: Parties file cross-motions for summary judgment in case.
* Nov. 2, 2007: U.S. District Court hears oral argument on cross-motions.
* Dec. 26, 2007: U.S. District Court finds for GGRA, holding the employer mandate to be preempted by federal ERISA law.
* Dec. 27, 2007: City Attorney Dennis Herrera files emergency motion with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, seeking stay in district court ruling to enable program to take effect on Jan. 1, 2008.
* Jan. 9, 2008: Ninth Circuit grants Herrera’s emergency motion, enabling program to go forward with the employer mandate intact.
* Feb. 8, 2008: GGRA files emergency petition with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Kennedy (in his capacity as circuit justice for the Ninth Circuit) seeking immediate reversal of the Ninth Circuit’s stay order.
* Feb. 21, 2008: Justice Kennedy denies GGRA’s emergency petition without comment.
* Sept. 30, 2008: Ninth Circuit rules in favor of the City, holding that the employer health care spending requirement is not preempted by ERISA.
* March 9, 2009: Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denies GGRA’s petition for rehearing en banc.
* March 17, 2009: GGRA files another emergency petition with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Kennedy seeking immediate stay of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ final ruling on the merits.
* March 30, 2009: Justice Kennedy again denies GGRA’s emergency petition without comment.
* June 6, 2009: GGRA files petition for a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court asking for the high court to review the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that rejected the challenge the health care employer spending requirement.
* August 24, 2009: San Francisco and amici curiae submit briefing to the U.S. Supreme Court opposing GGRA’s petition for review.
* October 5, 2009: On the first Monday in October, the traditional first day of the U.S. Supreme Court term, the high court calls for the views of the Solicitor General on the case.
* March 23, 2010: President Obama signs Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law.
* May 28, 2010: U.S. Solicitor General files brief with the Supreme Court urging that GGRA’s petition be denied.
* June 9, 2010: Herrera files supplemental brief with Supreme Court, rebutting GGRA’s arguments in response to Solicitor General over whether to grant review.
* June 28, 2010: U.S. Supreme Court denies review to the legal challenge, conclusively ending the contentious four-year legal battle over “Healthy San Francisco.”
PDF of the U.S. Supreme Court Affordable Care Act ruling presskit (June 28, 2012)