New sheriff in town for Delaware insurance consumers
by Sam Waltz
“Getting a better deal for Delaware’s health-care consumers” – through reducing both insurance premiums as well as the cost of care – is at the top of the “to-do” list for Trinidad “Trini” Navarro, 47, who takes office on Jan. 3 as Delaware’s Insurance Commissioner.
“Part of what we have to do is bring competition to Delaware, which now is virtually a monopoly” for Highmark, the Pittsburgh-headquartered insurer that is the former Blue Cross Blue
Shield of Delaware. “When you don’t have an option, you have to pay a premium price.”
In addition, as Insurance Commissioner, Navarro has a seat on Delaware’s Health Care Commission, which enjoys some gravitas as the Delaware public authority most interested and engaged in health care from the supply side, and he hopes to leverage that role to cost reductions.
Navarro has an aggressive and populist agenda on behalf of Delaware ratepayers, including the business community, he said. He comes to the job from a career in public service and criminal justice.
Perhaps better known to a generation of Delawareans as a longtime spokesman for the New Castle County Police Department, until his retirement six years ago, he was elected New Castle County Sheriff – a more administrative than law-enforcing role – in 2010 when he upset highly-popular long-time Democrat Sheriff Michael Walsh in a contested primary and then went on to cruise to victory in the general election.
In the September 2016 primary, he took on another two-term Democrat incumbent, Karen Weldin Stewart, and beat her for the Democrat nomination, before going on to beat Republican Jeff Cragg. Cragg, a Brandywine Hundred small businessman who owns My Mailbox Store in Fairfax, came with a background deep in the insurance industry, including service in a family-run insurance company. Navarro topped Cragg and even out-polled newly elected Gov. John Carney on election day.
A 1987 graduate of William Penn High School, which named Navarro to its Hall of Fame in 2015, he holds an associate’s degree in criminal justice from Delaware Technical & Community College, as well as a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Wilmington University.
He’s completing requirements now for a master’s degree at Wilmington University, which will give him a choice of graduating in administration of justice or with a master’s in public administration (MPA) degree.
As part of his plan to reduce insurance costs, as well as health-care costs, Navarro also has ambitious plans to provide educational programs to help Delaware insurance and health-care consumers become better, smarter customers.
Employers will applaud Navarro when they hear his commitment to reducing Workers’ Comp costs, the premiums the state charges to fund a pool to cover disability payments to employees injured on the job. Like many business leaders, Navarro feels the State of Delaware is over-charging its employers, putting the State of Delaware effectively at a disadvantage as location employers might choose to base a business.
“I want to work with the General Assembly to offer incentives to bring companies here to Delaware,” to lower Workers’ Comp, Navarro said.
“I also want to investigate insurance fraud,” he added. “We see a lot that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is doing, but it appears that the State of Delaware has not been active in reducing insurance premium costs by reducing fraud.”
Navarro is a fan of Delaware’s captive insurance industry, a net-income-producing business for the state. Captive insurance charters were ratcheted up under Navarro’s predecessor Stewart, growing from about 100 to about 1,000 captives.
“We’re generating about $6 million in captives revenue with a program that costs about $2 million to run,” said Navarro. “Of that $4 million surplus, the first $1 million goes to the city, and the rest of it goes to the Delaware General Fund, which means it’s money that the taxpayers don’t have to make up directly from their own tax payments.”
Delaware is the second or third leading domicile for captive insurance charters, behind Vermont and perhaps Utah. Captives are a vehicle for self-insurance management for companies large enough with sufficient risk-management in place that they can enjoy substantial financial benefit from the margin between traditional premiums and actual losses.
Captives also have evolved as a wealth management tool for family-owned businesses, where a variety of insurance risks can be covered and when losses are not realized, the premium dollars are banked and can be generation-skipped in terms of taxes to the benefit of grandkids or subsequent generations.
“I’d like to expand the program,” said Navarro. “Right now, too, The Wall Street Journal reports that the IRS is looking at abuse issues in captives. It found individual family-owned companies insuring themselves against terrorist attacks or against floods, and they were on high ground, in order to use the generation-skipping tax shelter benefits of premium dollars paid into captives. We want a robust industry in Delaware that is following the law, not abusing this.”
Navarro also refuses to speculate on his own political future. He acknowledges that Democrat insiders are looking to him, new Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester, and new Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long as having statewide potential as prospective successors in eight years to newly elected Gov. John Carney.
“The job I’ve just been elected to is an important job, I need to work on this one, and do it well, and I’m not looking ahead or thinking of any other job but this one,” Navarro said.