By Jack Minor –
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper finds himself facing another obstacle to his reelection campaign as his administration finds itself accused of stacking an investigative panel over charges Sen. Mark Udall pressured state insurance regulators to edit Obamacare cancellation figures.
Last year the Colorado Division of Insurance published a report showing that 250,000 Coloradoans had their insurance plans cancelled due to Obamacare. Among those was Congressman Cory Gardner, who excoriated Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius over the cancellation letters. Other state legislators have also had their insurance cancelled because they did not meet coverage requirements under Obamacare.
When the 250,000 number came out it drew a response from the president and was openly challenged by Udall who said it was misleading because the majority of the cancellation letters gave policy holders the option to purchase another plan.
The blog Complete Colorado published emails that were later obtained by the Denver Post where Jo Donlin, Colorado’s Division of Insurance director of external affairs said in a Nov. 14 email that said, “Sen. Udall says our numbers were wrong. They are not wrong. Cancellation notices affected 249,199 people. They want to trash our numbers. I’m holding strong while we get more details. Many have already done early renewals. Regardless, they received cancellation notices.”
Another e-mail from Udall’s legislative director Joe Britton to Donlin said, “We need to move on this ASAP — or we’ll be forced to challenge the 249K number ourselves. It is wildly off or at least very misleading and reporters keep repeating it.”
An e-mail from Britton the following day said, “We’ll be putting out a release this morning, but would again prefer that it be in coordination with you.” The e-mails between them appear to be cordial in tone.
In another internal e-mail, Donlin wrote, “Following my e-mail I received a very hostile call from Sen. Udall’s deputy chief of staff. Marguerite is on the phone with his chief of staff right now. Happy Friday!”
Marguerite Salazar is the commissioner at the state Division of Insurance.
Udall defended the actions taken by his staff saying it was important for the department to let people know that most of the people getting the notices did not have their policies cancelled outright.
Following an outcry by Republicans who said the prospect of a sitting senator bullying government workers to adjust their data was “reprehensible,” the governor’s office appointed a team to investigate the issue.
Following the investigation the panel said no bullying ever occurred nor did any department of insurance employees feel pressured.
However, when media outlets pushed for more details including the members of the panel, Gov. Hickenlooper’s administration attempted to keep the names secret, arguing that it was doing so to protect them from “potential politically motivated challenges of inquisitions.”
Under pressure from media outlets the names were eventually released and it was discovered that they consisted of three Democrats in the governor’s administration. The revelation immediately drew questions about the objectivity of the panel during the investigation.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo has called for the resignation of Barbara Kelly, the executive director of the state’s Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA). Kelley was appointed by Hickenlooper and was one of the members of the panel investigating Udall which determined that no coercion or intimidation took place.
“The Hickenlooper administration’s pattern of deception on this scandal is extremely troubling,” Tancredo said in a press release. “It suggests that the governor’s primary focus throughout this scandal has always been the political interest of protecting a fellow liberal Democrat.”
Udall is facing Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, a tea party candidate who narrowly lost a race against Sen. Michael Bennett in 2010 after Democrats poured millions of dollars into the race to defeat Buck.
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