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The federal government forms for applying for health coverage are seen at a rally held by supporters of the Affordable Care Act, widely referred to as "Obamacare", outside the Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health Center in Jackson, Mississippi October 4, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman The federal government forms for applying for health coverage are seen at a rally held by supporters of the Affordable Care Act, widely referred to as "Obamacare", outside the Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health Center in Jackson, Mississippi October 4, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman  

Colorado Obamacare exchange pays private lawyers up to $575/hour

Colorado’s Obamacare exchange has paid more than $300,000 for outside legal services since 2012 — with some lawyers being paid as much as $575 per hour — according to public records obtained by Health News Colorado.

One of those lawyers argued before a state senate committee on Wednesday against an expansive audit of the exchange. The bill authorizing the audit had wide bipartisan support, having passed the state house with a 60-1 vote, but the Democratic-controlled committee killed it along partisan lines.

The exchange’s private lawyer, Mark Grueskin, told Health News that it’s important for governmental start-ups to get expert advice on the law.

“I’ve advised clients about governmental audits and finance issues for years,” he told the website.

But expenses like the legal fees are precisely what lawmakers in the house wanted an audit to examine, to ensure the tax money funding the exchange is being spent properly.

“It raises more concerns now that they have killed that measure,” Republican Rep. Dan Nordberg told Health News Colorado. “We have no idea where this money is being spent or how it’s being spent. If this is going to be the vehicle that’s being used for Coloradans to get their health insurance, we need to be sure that taxpayer money is being put to good use.”

Records obtained by the site show the health exchange has hired nine outside lawyers since 2012 and that they were paid between $225 per hour and $575 per hour, for a total expenditure of $318,931.57.

Grueskin — whose fees for his appearance before the senate committee hadn’t been calculated yet — most recently made the news as the lawyer for John Morse, the former Democratic state senator who was recalled from office last year for his support of Colorado’s new gun legislation.

A health exchange spokesperson told Health News Colorado that the board of directors approved the expenditure, but board member Ellen Daehnick said staff members didn’t tell the board of its decision to pay for private lawyers or explain why. She said she was surprised that the exchange didn’t use the state attorney general’s office for legal advice, which it’s qualified to do.

“I think the AG’s office would have been a really reasonable choice,” she told the site, adding that it would be “troubling” if outside counsel was used for more political reasons.

“If we’ve spent that money to play defense or to discourage legislation that might shine a potentially critical light on Connect for Health operations, then I would find that troubling,” she said.

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