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A busy screen is shown on the laptop of a Certified Application Counselor as he attempted to enroll an interested person for Affordable Care Act insurance, known as Obamacare, at the Borinquen Medical Center in Miami, Florida Oct. 2, 2013. (REUTERS/Joe Skipper) A busy screen is shown on the laptop of a Certified Application Counselor as he attempted to enroll an interested person for Affordable Care Act insurance, known as Obamacare, at the Borinquen Medical Center in Miami, Florida Oct. 2, 2013. (REUTERS/Joe Skipper)  

Colorado’s health exchange boss makes more than most state cabinet members

Colorado’s Obamacare exchange, which is facing “dramatic” cuts to come in on budget if fees aren’t raised on customers, pays its director more than most state department heads, according to a report in the Denver Post.

Executive director Patty Fontneau, who was criticized last year for requesting a raise and a bonus even as the health care exchange failed to meet its goals, is also paid more than exchange directors in three other states examined by the Post.

The paper reported that a fifth of the exchange’s employees make more than $100,000 per year, and that almost half make more than $80,000.

Fontneau is paid $190,549 per year for leading a staff of 36 employees. The Post noted the salary is $35,000-$40,000 more than what almost everyone in Gov. John Hickenlooper’s cabinet is paid. And it’s more than exchange directors in Nevada, Minnesota and Washington make per year, states the Post chose for comparison because the cost of living in their metropolitan areas is similar to Denver’s.

Earlier this month, Fontneau asked the Connect for Health Colorado board to consider raising the per-customer fee on those who buy health insurance through the site, citing lower than projected numbers of people signing up by early 2015. Without the fee, she warned that budget cuts would be necessary to keep the exchange operating on its $26 million annual budget.

“I’m not sure the board understands how dramatic our expense cuts are going to be to hit $26 million [in annual operating costs],” Health News Colorado quoted Fontneau as saying.

Those fees are meant to keep the exchange self-sufficient and they’re also used to pay salaries.

Fontneau and others defended her salary to the Post, saying that since the exchange is set up to operate as a private entity, it needed to compete for employees with high salaries.

Fontneau’s “philosophy is to pay a little more but hire really good people at a higher level of experience to do the management,” Democratic state Rep. Beth McCann told the paper.

“I’m comfortable with the way the exchange is operating,” she said.

But Republican Rep. Kevin Lundberg said he thought the exchange staff was “top heavy.” He told the Post, however, that the while the legislature has some power over who is appointed to the exchange’s board, it has none when it comes to staff salaries.

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