Dems kill popular bill to audit Colorado’s Obamacare exchange

Greg Campbell | Contributor

Democrats on a Colorado state senate committee provoked outrage after killing a popular bipartisan bill to expand an audit into the state-run Obamacare exchange.

In voting against the bill with other Democrats on the Health and Human Services Committee, chairwoman Sen. Irene Aguilar said she was “exceedingly impressed” with the exchange’s transparency and happy with how it’s being run, saying she prefers that exchange staffers spend time enrolling people in health insurance rather than talking to auditors.

The bill would have allowed the state auditor to do an expanded performance audit on Connect For Health Colorado, which has fallen far short of its enrollment goals and which faces “dramatic” cuts in order to stay on budget.

The bill was the most popular in recent memory, having passed the House by a nearly unanimous vote of 60-1.

Republicans were thunderstruck when the committee voted 4-3 along party lines to kill it.

“What happened today in committee is a disgrace and the majority party should be ashamed of themselves,” said Sen. Kevin Lundberg, in a statement.

“It’s clear that Senate Democrats killed this bill in an attempt to cover up the failures of Obamacare,” he said. “Connect for Health Colorado has wasted $46,000 of taxpayer money on sunscreen and lip balm. They hired a director who had been indicted in Montana for stealing from a non-profit organization. Connect for Health Colorado deserves to be audited.”

Indeed, the exchange spent $8 million in marketing and advertising before it launched last year, including on branded packets of lip balm and sunscreen, according to the Denver Post. The exchange also spent more than $9,000 to rent a wrapped RV to travel around Colorado to promote the exchange.

The official under indictment, Christa McClure, is accused of paying herself “significant” sums in consulting fees while she was the executive director of Housing Montanta, which is funded by federal tax dollars. She’s also accused of paying family members and using Housing Montana funds for personal travel and goods, according to the Post.

Patty Fontneau, the director of the Colorado health exchange, has also raised eyebrows over how money is spent. Shortly after the exchange was launched in October, and while it was failing to achieve even its worst-case scenario number of enrollments, Fontneau requested a raise and a bonus. She eventually rescinded the request.

And Fontneau recently requested that the health exchange board raise fees on customers to make up for a budget shortfall caused by still-lackluster numbers of people using the exchange. The exchange has signed up about 100,000 fewer people than it had projected.

For these and other reasons, lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled state House came together in a rare moment of unity to pass the audit bill on to the Senate, where it was ultimately killed.

“Wow. Unbelievable,” bill sponsor Sen. David Balmer, is quoted as saying in the Denver Post. “It’s pretty surprising a bill the House approved 60-1 is killed like this. What are they trying to hide?”

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