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Court upholds San Francisco's health care program

SAN FRANCISCO Potentially clearing the way for statewide insurance mandates funded by employers, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld this city’s employer-subsidized health care program, ruling that it does not violate state and federal laws regulating employee benefit plans.

The unanimous ruling on Tuesday overturned a lower-court decision last December that the Healthy San Francisco program placed an undue burden on small business in the city.

San Francisco in 2006 became the nation's first jurisdiction to facilitate broad health care coverage by requiring employers with 20 or more workers to either provide health benefits or contribute to a municipal fund enabling health services for as many as 73,000 low-income residents.

The plan was challenged by the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, which argued that mandatory employer fees violated the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA. The GGRA reportedly plans to appeal the ruling.

In February, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy ruled that the city could continue collecting fees from employers pending an appellate ruling.

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