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Gavin Newsom

Gavin Newsom

Posted May 12, 2009 | 05:34 PM (EST)

Scaling San Francisco's Universal Health Care Program


I've been in our nation's capital this week meeting with Obama Administration officials and Congressional leaders about national health care reform. Everywhere I go, from the White House to the Department of Labor to the U.S. Senate, I get the same question: can San Francisco's universal health care program, Healthy San Francisco, be scaled?

The answer is yes.

Truly, one of the strongest aspects of Healthy San Francisco (HSF) is its simplicity. The program allows participants to select their primary care provider from among dozens of local hospitals and clinics, both public and private. Our local system does not require lengthy HMO paperwork and there is no denial of treatment based on pre-existing medical conditions.

A recent study showed that Healthy San Francisco is dramatically less expensive than traditional insurance. And our experience in San Francisco is proving what most Americans already know - it is much less expensive to keep people well than it is to treat their sickness, particularly when so much treatment for uninsured Americans is provided in costly emergency rooms.

There are currently more than 40,000 participants in HSF. We are enrolling approximately 600 new participants every week. We have already enrolled more than half of the previously uninsured San Franciscans and the vast majority will have access to health care by the end of next year.

I believe that administration and congressional leaders understand that we cannot wait for health care reform. Our health care crisis affects every aspect of our society - from making sure every child receives the health care they need to succeed in school, to decreasing the financial burden on business, both large and small, so our economy can get back on track.

I know there is pressure in Washington to wait until the economy improves before we act on health care reform. I faced many of the same pressures when I was working with allies in San Francisco to forge our universal health care delivery system.

But "waiting" in politics usually means never - and we simply cannot afford to wait any longer. The lessons we are learning in San Francisco shows that investing in health and wellness is its own kind of economic stimulus.

The time is now to tackle this problem and I applaud President Obama for promising to sign a national health care reform bill by October. We cannot wait for change - the President needs your help. Sign the petition to support President Obama's call for health care reform.

One of the key figures leading the charge in Congress is Iowa Senator Tom Harkin. I spoke with Sen. Harkin on my Green 960 radio show this week about the challenges Congress and the administration face and the possibility of using HSF as a model for a national program. You can listen to the show online or via iTunes.

For my part, I was recently made Chair of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Task Force on Health Care Reform. Cities often have the most pressing health care needs and have had to adapt and innovate in lieu of national health care reform. I am looking forward to working with my fellow Mayor's to hear what they have learned in their cities and share what we've learned in my hometown through Healthy San Francisco.

In the end, the task force will identify urban health care priorities and advise the work of Congress and the Administration to help solve this crucial challenge we all share. As always, please feel free to give me your input and feedback in the comments section below.

Listen to Mayor Newsom's Green 960 radio show online or subscribe to his weekly policy discussions on iTunes. Join Mayor Newsom on Facebook. You can also follow him on Twitter.