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Legislature overturns Carney’s veto on benefits committee bill

Katie Tabeling
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The General Assembly voted uniamously to overturn Gov. John Carney’s veto on a bill that would otherwise change the committee that oversees the state retiree benefits. | COURTESY OF ADOBE STOCK

DOVER — For the first time in 47 years, the Delaware legislature has overturned a veto. With unanimous support in both the House and the Senate, a bill that would change the committee that oversees state employee benefits will now go into law.

The Senate voted to overturn Gov. John Carney’s veto on House Bill 282 without comment on the floor on Thursday night. After the final vote, the Senate Democratic leaders — Senate Pro Temp Dave Sokola, Senate Majority Leader Bryan Townsend, and Senate Majority Whip Tizzy Lockman— issued a joint statement that stressed the matter was a “vote of confidence” for state workers and labor unions.

HB 282 shifts members on the State Employee Benefits Committee, which makes decisions about health insurance and other benefits like prescription, dental and more. Current members include several members of the Carney administration and elected officials, like Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall Long, State Treasurer Colleen Davis and Delaware Supreme Court Justice Collins Seitz.

The law removes one appointee made by the governor and adds two members appointed by the Senate Pro Tem and the House Speaker each. It also demotes the Delaware Human Resources Secretary, who serves as co-chair, to a non-voting member and would establish the Office of Management and Budget Director as the sole chair.

HB 282 would also require the committee to approve proposals to select a carrier for health insurance plans during an open meeting, where printouts of the plan must be made available.

“We believe state workers and retirees deserve a seat at the table when decisions are being made that will impact the health and welfare of their families for years to come,” the joint statement from Sokola, Townsend and Lockman read after the veto override was complete. “We trust state workers to fairly balance their personal interests with the interests of their communities, just as they trust us to protect the benefits promised to them during their dedicated careers in public service.”

The state government is the largest employer in Delaware, considering both the public and private sector. According to the Delaware Business Times’ records, it has 31,650 employees as of 2023, and many more have since retired from the state government.

Back in 2022, Delaware state officials moved to change the health insurance plans to Medicare Plan C, also known as Medicare Advantage Plan through Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield Delaware in an effort to restrain health care costs. Reports at the time show that Delaware could pay as much as $33 billion by 2050.

The move to Medicare Advantage was met with heavy resistance from retirees who organized into RISE Delaware who began advocacy work. RISE Delaware conducted its own reports that claimed that Medicare Advantage plans charge different out of pocket costs and have different rules for services, like referrals to see a specialist and restrictions on medicines.

After a lawsuit was filed, the Delaware Superior Court ruled that it would temporarily block the Medicare Advantage Plan that was planned to go into effect by 2023. But that didn’t stop legislators from studying the issue further through a subcommittee, which resulted in HB 282.

In the meantime, health care costs continued to rise, and so has the state’s share to pay for it. Delaware pays roughly $2 billion on health care per year, and this year it was about 40% of the state’s total operating budget, Carney said.

It’s also growing faster than any other expense in the state budget, he added.

Carney vetoed HB 282 on Tuesday, claiming that the bill would be counter to his efforts to rein in health care costs because it would remove two members with relevant expertise and add those who “lack such expertise and have an acknowledged conflict of interest.”

When the veto was overturned Thursday night, he reiterated that the change in the boards would make things much harder for state leaders to make informed decisions on health care plans and experiences.

“For eight years, I’ve been focused on getting our fiscal house in order and protecting the interests of all Delaware taxpayers. I’m proud that we’ll leave our budget in strong shape for the next administration … unfortunately HB 282 runs counter to those efforts,” the governor said in a prepared statement. “[This] puts the interests of Delaware taxpayers at risk. It could lead to higher taxes and limit our ability to give pay raises to teachers, active state employees and pensioners, as we’ve done the last several years.”

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