County looks at potential impacts of proposed healthcare law

Sussex County Council will be keeping an eye on House Bill 74, which relates to health insurance, and how it might affect their employee coverage and their bottom line. Deputy County Administrator Hal Godwin reported on that bill and other legislation in which the County might have an interest during his presentation to the council on Tuesday.

“It’s a very large bill,” said Godwin, noting that it has been introduced and assigned to a committee, but has not yet had a hearing. “I don’t think the benefits are clear. It sets up a whole new layer of government.”

He reported that he was trying to get in contact with Rep. Byron Short, chairman of the House Economic Development/Banking/Insurance/Commerce Committee, to which the bill was forwarded for review on April 11, to get clarification on parts of it.

Gina Jennings, who will take over as County finance director as of May 1, said she had questions about how it would be funded and how the County would be affected financially.

“For employers with more than 50 employees, employers would pay 9 percent. Now, we pay 36 percent of gross income, [for employee health care coverage]. I don’t know how they would do it with 9. We need to get a greater understanding. It’s not clear.”

She said that, as it is presented now, it would cost the County less, but she wondered how the State would offer the same coverage with less funding.

“There’s just not enough information,” said Councilman George Cole. “I can’t imagine we’d buy into a bill when we don’t know how it affects our employees. Will our employees be better off? We do care about our employees.”

He also asked that the County make their position known to the legislators, in writing.

Godwin told the council that the bill’s the primary sponsor was Rep. John A. Kowalko Jr., and other sponsors were Rep. Earl G. Jacques Jr., Rep. Paul S. Baumbach, Rep. Helene Keeley and Sen. Harris B. McDowell III.

Councilman Sam Wilson commented that they were all “liberal wackos.”

“Get all the information you can get and come back to us with a recommendation of what our view should be,” Council President Michael Vincent told Godwin. “We need to know what it says before we say we are against it,” he added after a bit of discussion.

“Who said we are against it?” asked Councilwoman Joan Deaver to Wilson. “How do you know you are against it? You don’t even know what it is yet,” she asked him.

“Didn’t it say that we wouldn’t be offering insurance, the State would? Anytime the government gets involved… that’s enough for me right there,” answered Wilson.

“Well, let’s wait a week and get some more details, and we can still take that position,” offered Cole.

The verbiage of the bill is that the “Delaware Health Security Act will provide a cost effective single-payer health-care system for the State of Delaware.”

It states that the act would “provide comprehensive health-care coverage to all Delawareans without any extra health insurance or out-of-pocket expense. The system will save money currently wasted on administrative/overhead costs and will provide a stable funding structure.”

The act creates a “Delaware Health Security Authority,” with a 15-member Delaware Health Security Board, and it states that funding would come from “all state and federal funds available for health and healthcare costs in Delaware; employer and employee graduated payroll tax from 4 percent for employers with less than 10 employees to 9 percent for employers with 50 or more employees; a Health Security tax of 2.5 percent on net taxable income (after deductions) for all heads of households and persons subject to Delaware’s income tax; and an additional Health Security income surtax on net taxable income of 2.5 percent for persons filing a Delaware income tax return in excess of $250,000.

“Married couples filing a joint Delaware income tax return shall pay an additional income surtax of 2.5 percent on net taxable income in excess of $500,000.”

The proposed bill in its entirety can be seen in this week’s County Council packet, online at

The council also heard from County employee Brandi Nauman, who had reported in March on six different fair-housing strategies the County could take to aid in their compliance of a settlement with the Department of Justice and the federal Housing and Urban Development agency. Nauman, an existing County employee, was named as the County’s fair-housing compliance officer —a role that was established as part of the settlement.

The strategy she presented this week was an expansion of the County’s fair-housing policy to amend the rules and procedures for public hearings of County Council, the Board of Adjustment, and the Planning & Zoning Commission, to include the following:

“Sussex County, in its zoning and land use decisions, does not discriminate against persons based on race, color, religion, national origin, disability, familial status, sex, creed, marital status, age or sexual orientation. Public comments made on the basis of bias and stereotype concerning people within these protected classes will not be taken into consideration by the County in its deliberations.”

She said legal counsel representing County Council, the Board of Adjustment and the Planning & Zoning Commission will read the above statement prior to the start of any public hearings. She explained that they expanded on the federal fair-housing language to include the four additional protected classes under Delaware’s fair-housing laws: creed, marital status, age and sexual orientation.