Posted: Jan. 24, 2006


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Gov. Ruth Ann Minner had two very interested listeners last Thursday when she got to the part in her "State of the State" speech about a state workers' health program.

Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr. looked pleased. State Treasurer Jack A. Markell looked surprised. Both had their reasons.

The program is called "Health Rewards." Up until now, it has been a three-year-old pilot program, providing a battery of health tests to 3,000 state workers to improve their health and cut the cost of their health care.

It seemed to be a fine program. A state supervisor credited it with saving his life by detecting blockages in his heart, and the Council of State Governments thought so much of the program that it gave Delaware an "Innovations Award" in June at a presentation in California.

Minner, a two-term Democrat, used the "State of the State" to announce that Health Rewards would expand by offering all state workers a confidential computer assessment of their health. The new option would be called "Know Your Numbers" -- for blood pressure, cholesterol and so on -- and she had someone in mind as its chief advocate.

"I have asked our lieutenant governor to kick off an immediate 'Know Your Numbers' campaign among our state employees," Minner said.

Carney? This was news. Markell had thought Health Rewards was his program. There was no doubt that Minner knew it, too -- because Markell had joined her in accepting the award from the Council of State Governments.

The governor, who has steadfastly never signaled a preference between Carney and Markell in their not-so-underground rivalry for the 2008 Democratic nomination for governor, had left everyone guessing again.

She had chosen a particularly sensitive issue, too.

Long ago, Carney wrapped his political identity in being "Mr. Fit." His official biography prominently points out he played quarterback on St. Mark's championship football team in 1973 and was All-Ivy League at Dartmouth, and the cover page of his state Web site is devoted to the "Lt. Governor's Challenge," a program to encourage physical fitness in Delawareans.

Markell had cut in with Health Rewards. As treasurer, he could justify it, because the rationale for the program included the cost savings expected from fewer health insurance claims.

Markell never pretended to have thought up the program. He credited Mark T. Brainard, the governor's chief of staff, for bringing him the idea while Brainard was a senior vice president at the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, and then Markell took it to the State Employees Benefits Committee, which embraced it.

No one wanted to say much about how Carney got the nod in the "State of the State."

The governor's office certainly was not talking. Kate Bailey, the communications director, offered only a bland explanation, saying, "John has been involved in the fitness challenge. It just seemed natural."

Carney was equally opaque. "They came to me and asked me, and I was just really excited about it. I think the Health Rewards program is such a good program. It's consistent with what I've been doing with the Lt. Governor's Challenge," he said.

Markell dodged, too. "I think it's great to have a lot of people who are supporting and promoting it," he said.

As matters now stand, Carney has been restored to health, or perhaps health has been restored to Carney. Still, it probably would not hurt to to pay attention to Matthew P. Denn, the Democratic insurance commissioner who also has designs on higher office.

Denn has shown considerable interest in long-term health care and seat belts. . . .