"I think, for a lot of people, COVID-19 is top-of-mind--and rightfully so. We've had some really great successes these last four years, but everything in February, March changed."
Democratic incumbent Trinidad Navarro, a former police officer and sheriff's officer who is currently Delaware's Insurance Commissioner, is seeking reelection in the upcoming general election this November. Facing a challenger in the GOP's Julia Pillsbury, Navarro said his cumulative body of work over the past four years, from bills passed to natural disasters addressed to , most recently, a global pandemic, put his full commitment to the citizens of Delaware on display.
"We worked quickly with the governor's office to make sure that insurance companies couldn't cancel policies due to non payment because people lost their jobs.," he said. "And we did that for the original pendency of the emergency order up until just a few weeks ago. Now, instead of making people pay up all their premiums, all at one time, we're working with consumers and companies to work out sort of a payment plan so you can get caught up."
He wanted to make sure individuals remained covered because, when facing economic hardships, rent or groceries might be taking precedence over insurance, and he didn't want to see a large group of people suddenly without coverage.
During the pandemic, Navarro also said his office addressed issues like telemedicine access, remote accessibility for mental health and prescription services.
Prior achievements Navarro wanted to highlight included passed of House Bill 80, which prohibited discriminatory practices like "using things like credit score and age and education and employment, and zip code, and in other factors, marital status, things like that, that I thought were unfairly discriminatory," to determine healthcare eligibility. Additionally, he pointed out, despite the pandemic, it was the fourth straight year the office has managed to decrease workers' compensation costs for businesses.
"That helps businesses who are, especially now during the pandemic, having a hard time making payroll," Navarro said. "It doesn't affect someone who's injured. They're still covered in the same way as they were prior to any of these reductions, but it does help the bottom line for both small and large businesses alike."
His opponent brought up on WDEL's The Rick Jensen show that there's only one provider available in Delaware under the Affordable Care Act and, while choice is always a great thing, he said it's not his office that's responsible for less competition.
"It sounds like a good talking point where, 'I'm going to bring in more people or more companies,' because, let's face it, when there's competition, consumers always benefit," Navarro said. "Well, when I first started, we had Highmark and Aetna, but they were both losing hundreds of millions of dollars because of the Republican efforts to destroy the ACA."
He said, with the innovative approaches put in place by his office, premiums were lowered by 20%, and $21.5 million was rebated back to the customers.
"Now that Highmark is no longer losing millions and millions and millions of dollars, we think that the marketplace's stabilized, and that there's a high likelihood that we'll have at least one or two new companies next year," he said. "I know it sounds like, 'Okay, well, why didn't you do this sooner?' Well, we just did this reinsurance program, which only a handful of states have done; it's called a 1332 waiver and what that essentially did was lower the cost, using supplemental government dollars, to help offset the losses for Highmark. It was extremely successful--so well that other states across the country are looking to see what Delaware did."
He said, if reelected, the next things he'd like to focus on are technological advancements that make discriminatory practices against healthcare consumers easier.
"With the emergence of big data and artificial intelligence, [companies] no longer have to ask you what your credit score is or your marital status, they can find all that out using big data," Navarro said. "The challenge for regulators is to make sure that they don't use that artificial intelligence--whether it's intentional or not--to discriminate against people...They can tell what websites you visit, what magazines you subscribe to. If you subscribe to People magazine, that might not be a big tell, but if you prescribe to El Tiempo Hispano or Essence magazine, they can tell, with some degree of certainty, that person's ethnic or racial background. So they have this data available, and our challenge as regulators is to make sure they use it in a way that's not unfairly discriminatory."
Some people aren't fully aware of the entirety of responsibilities the Insurance Commissioner oversees. They oversee pharmacy benefit managers, prescription drug costs, conduct market exams, and, in August, Navarro helped homeowners who were having trouble getting coverage after a series of tornado-brewing tornados moved through the region, he personally helped resolve a dozen claims in those communities.
"We regulate the industry so we protect, educate, and advocate for consumers," he said. "As an insurance regulator, that's what I do: I make sure that insurance companies fulfill their obligations and we were able to get people help rather quickly...We almost always get an immediate resolution, because that's the last thing that companies want to do, get on our bad side. I just want people to know that we're the largest consumer advocacy agency in the state, and we help people every single day with insurance issues."
And he'd like to continue to do that.
"I would say that you when it comes to consumer service, that's all I've ever done my entire adult life, whether it's in law enforcement, or in the sheriff's office. That's what I was wired to do, and there's this expression: 'Do what you love and love what you do,' and I love helping people. It's evidenced by the hundreds of folks that we've helped over time, and I still think that we have more work to do."