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The rising cost of healthcare was first and foremost on the list of concerns raised by area businesses during a Delaware State Chamber of Commerce luncheon held June 6.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Speaker of the House Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach. “It’s frustrating to have to pay the high fees, and it’s frustrating as a state legislator to look employees in the eye and say, ‘Your healthcare is going up this year’.”

While costs have leveled over the past two years, he said, there is a big difference in cost of services among the state’s six hospitals. “If you compare prices between hospitals, it’s astounding the difference between one particular hospital and the others,” Schwartzkopf said.

In the past, he said, legislators tried to compare costs by hospital, and they were unable to get the information needed for a comparison.

“We were stymied by some of our own people who work in government,” he said. “We’re such a small state, we should be able to figure this out.”

Schwartzkopf said Delaware healthcare facilities run the risk of losing market share to hospitals in Pennsylvania or other neighboring states.

“Until we start to get some of those costs under control, or at least put out a comparative cost from hospital to hospital, I don’t think we’re going to get anything done,” he said.

A few bills, if passed, will save consumers money, Schwartzkopf said. A bill that prevents insurers and pharmacies from keeping the difference when a prescription costs less than a co-pay, House Bill 24, passed the House by 38 votes with three absent. It now awaits action in the Senate. Schwartzkopf introduced House Bill 176 last week that would stabilize the individual health insurance market and offer relief to Delawareans struggling with extraordinary healthcare costs.

Among other legislative issues facing this year’s session, Schwartzkopf said he supports House Bill 200 creating a fund to clean Delaware’s waterways. “This is a serious issue in our state that has been ignored far too long,” he said.

But on legalizing marijuana, Schwartzkopf said he supports the state Chamber of Commerce in opposing the bill.

“I’m on your side,” he told the audience of more than 100 at Dover Downs. “I made a deal with the sponsor of the bill. He knows where I stand,” he said. “I won’t try to hurt or won’t try to help it. If he gets the votes, it’s going on the agenda. That’s where that stands.”