For universal health care, but not on his shoulders

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth part of a six-part series on the Healthy San Francisco program, which provides nearly universal health care for the city’s residents. Each part of the series will examine the program through the eyes of different people in the community, including a patient, a doctor who runs a clinic, two employers with different views of the program, and a hospital administrator. To see the entire series, go here.

Daniel Scherotter, a restaurant owner and chef, is leading the fight against Healthy San Francisco. It is not that he opposes the health care program. He simply thinks the city’s businesses, particularly restaurants, should not be required to finance universal health care.

As a past president of the Golden Gate Restaurant Assn. and chef and owner of Palio D’Asti restaurant, Scherotter is backing a lawsuit that challenges the Healthy San Francisco law. The case is now before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Daniel Scherotter, a restaurant owner and chef, is leading the fight against Healthy San Francisco, the city’s universal health care program. Photo by Richard C. Paddock.

“San Francisco loves its restaurants but it doesn’t treat us very well,” he says.

For Scherotter, the adoption of Healthy San Francisco is one in a series of city actions that has placed a growing burden on small businesses and made it hard for them to survive. San Francisco’s $9.79 minimum wage and its required 9 days of employee sick leave are among the highest in the nation, he notes.

Under Healthy San Francisco, companies with 20 or more workers must provide employees with health insurance or health reimbursement accounts or pay the city $1.31 per hour for each worker. The rate rises to $1.96 an hour for employers with 100 or more workers.

“Healthy San Francisco is definitely onerous,” Scherotter says. “It’s the straw that broke the camel’s back, which is why we’re suing.”

At one point, he lived in Italy and came to appreciate Europe’s health care system. Like many San Franciscans, he favors universal health care and likes the way care is provided under Healthy San Francisco. His problem is with forcing the low-wage, labor-intensive restaurant industry to shoulder the costs.

Even before the recession, the number of restaurants in San Francisco was shrinking about 5% a year, he said. Several restaurants near his Sacramento Street establishment have closed. Others have gone to self-service to reduce their labor costs.

“I look around here and I am the only major restaurant on the street,” he says.

Scherotter is the son of a lawyer and has a degree in philosophy. But what he really loves is cooking. After college, he came to San Francisco in 1993 to attend the California Culinary Academy.

He got one of his first jobs as a cook at Palio D’Asti in San Francisco’s financial district making $9 an hour and worked his way up, eventually becoming the chef and buying the restaurant.

Many restaurants have added a surcharge to help cover the cost of Healthy San Francisco and put a note on their menus informing customers of the extra fee.

“It has been effective in making a statement,” says Scherotter, although he doesn’t add a surcharge at Palio D’Asti.

Scherotter would like to see the city – and the nation – take an entirely different approach to health care: spend more on better quality food and less on health insurance.

“Only a chef could say this, right?” he offered. “But why food doesn’t have a part in the health care discussion I don’t have any idea.”

Europeans who eat a Mediterranean diet are healthier than the average American, he notes, not because their doctors are better but because their food is healthier. Buying cheap, government-subsidized, processed food leads to higher health care costs.

“People spend very little money to eat crap and then have to pay for health insurance,” he said. “It’s about as backwards as it can get. It would make more sense for employers to give lunch insurance to their employees.”

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