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Colorado’s Obamacare exchange deserves an audit

By Joshua Sharf

Imagine you own stock in a company that consistently failed to meet sales targets, yet the CEO asked for a raise. Imagine that a director had been indicted for embezzlement from a previous employer; an ad campaign had been launched that verged on the pornographic in order to achieve its desired customer mix; and that this company had just spent $46,000 on sunscreen.

Unfortunately, Colorado taxpayers don’t have to imagine. This description of the troubles surrounding the state’s Obamacare exchange demands an audit that Democrats in the state Senate have refused to approve, and a closer investigation into how our money has been spent.

If the board of such a company said they had decided against an audit that year, because management said they were already in compliance with the mandated oversight, as a stock-owner you probably would be outraged.

Probably the only thing that would make you madder would be to learn that management had spent $575 an hour on an attorney, even though they had access to in-house counsel, whose job it was to inform the board that they had no authority to order an audit in the first place. But that also is exactly what happened at Connect for Health Colorado.

Like it or not, your tax money is invested in CFHC, the state’s government-run health exchange designed to implement Obamacare.

On March 26, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee Democrats rejected a bill to audit the Obamacare exchange. Every one of the misfortunes and miscues spelled out above had happened before that 4-3 party-line vote. Indeed, the committee voted the bill down after the House of Representatives had passed the identical bill 60-1, the lone Democratic holdout being Rep. Sue Schafer of Jefferson County.

The reason for the audit was clear, at least to the House. CFHC failed to reach its “sustainable” target by 13 percent, enrolling fewer than 120,000 in private insurance. Despite the obvious shortcoming, CEO Patty Fontneau last year asked for a 3 percent raise on her already-generous $190,000 salary.

In an effort to make up the difference, CFHC paid for advertising targeted at younger uninsured Coloradans. Included were the notorious “Brosurance” and “Hosurance” ads, as well as scantily clad models encouraging visitors to Denver’s 16th Street Mall to “GetCovered.”

The Senate committee heard no testimony. However, when the House Health, Insurance, and Environment Committee met to consider the measure, they heard from attorney Marc Grueskin, retained by CFHC to explain why the Legislative Audit Committee had no authority to audit the state-funded entity. Grueskin has long been a legal advocate for Democratic and progressive causes in Colorado.

While some of CFHC’s problems have been covered sporadically in the press, an actual audit with an actual governmental report could prove embarrassing to those Democrats who have wholeheartedly supported the state’s implementation of the increasingly unpopular Obamacare.

The majority party certainly would like to avoid a repeat of the debacle of the audit of the Governor’s Energy Office. In January 2013, it was discovered that the office couldn’t account for over a quarter of a billion dollars.

Republicans produced measures to fund an additional eight hours of research time for the audit, and to suspend funding for the energy office until the question of how the office’s $252 million had been spent from 2007 to 2012. Democrats defeated both measures, but the whole incident has served to tarnish the reputation of “Green” energy and to direct attention to the government subsidies that it uses to survive.

With the unpopularity of Obamacare now approaching Nixonian levels, the law has become an albatross around many Democratic politicians. So it’s little surprise some legislative Democrats wish to prevent an audit.

Colorado citizens and taxpayers, though, deserve better.

This originally appeared in the Greeley Tribune, April 2, 2014.