Gardner Slams “Pattern of Misdirection” in Udall Obamacare Scandal

January 16, 2014

GARDNER:  "[W]ho directed the division of insurance to hide the real [cancellation] numbers, and when did the governor's office know the number was 335,000?"

GARDNER: “[W]ho directed the division of insurance to hide the real [cancellation] numbers, and when did the governor’s office know the number was 335,000?”

WASHINGTON — The number of cancelled health insurance policies statewide turns out to be significantly higher than originally reported by Colorado’s Insurance Division — but was never made public after complaints from Democratic Sen. Mark Udall’s office.

The insurance regulatory agency now says that 335,484 residents received cancellation notices after Obamacare took effect last fall, 86,000 more than the 249,199 figure that was originally reported Nov. 6.

The revelation was tucked inside a letter to Colorado Republican Rep. Cory Gardner from Colorado Insurance Commissioner Marguerite Salazar delivered Tuesday, that was in response to his inquiry as to whether the agency was pressured by Udall’s office to cook the books and lower the number of cancelled policies.

Gardner told The Colorado Observer that he was “stunned” the actual higher number was never made public.

“The fact is that 250,000 is the number that people have been using in the media, it was the number the division of insurance has been using after the hostile phone call, that was the number everybody continued to use despite the fact the division of insurance knew it was actually 335,000,” Gardner said.

“I don’t believe that was brought up at Marguerite Salazar’s confirmation hearing, so why aren’t they using accurate numbers?” Gardner said.

Salazar appeared Monday before the state Senate Committee on Business, Labor and Technology for her confirmation hearing, but did not set the record straight as to the actual number of cancelled insurance policies. The panel unanimously voted her confirmation out of committee and a final vote is pending in the full state Senate.

A week after the 249,199 number was released by the agency in Colorado, Udall staffers called and emailed insurance agency officials complaining that the numbers were too high, The Complete Colorado reported last week.

“Sen. Udall says our numbers were wrong,” said one email from an insurance official.

“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,” the email said.

Documents also reveal that Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office was notified that Udall’s office objected to the numbers.

Udall remains a strong supporter of Obamacare, the new law that forced the cancellation of millions of insurance policies nationwide.

Disclosure of the internal email has prompted concern from Republican officials in Colorado as well as Washington, as to whether the pressure had a chilling effect in suppressing the real number of health insurance cancellations.

Washington lawmakers on the House Oversight as well as Energy and Commerce Committee are examining the matter to see if it merits a congressional investigation.

Although the internal email described a discussion with a top Udall staffer as “hostile,” Salazar defended Udall and his staffers and said the communication between the federal and state office was “useful.”

“Senator Udall’s staff was doing their own research separate and apart from the division, and brought certain information to our attention, including the fact that carriers were sending notices that included renewal options,” Salazar said.

The Department of Regulatory Agencies also announced Tuesday they had investigated the matter and had cleared Udall’s staffers of any attempts of intimidation.

Gardner said he was not surprised.

“It’s a little bit like letting a Denver Bronco referee a Denver Broncos game — you know how the penalties are going to be called,” Gardner said.

“What is a surprise is the revelation that 86,000 additional Coloradans lost their insurance and nobody knew about it. Somebody had to, and why wasn’t that information given to the public?” Gardner asked.

Salazar also said in the letter to Gardner that the agency “highlighted” in Dec. 3 press release how many Coloradoans were offered the option of renewing their insurance policy after it was cancelled – 96 percent – but did not say if the new policies were going to cost consumers more or less money.

However, the Dec. 3 press release did not update the number of actual cancellation letters sent to Colorado consumers, which at that time numbered 326,587.

“There’s a pattern of misdirection from the division of insurance over accuracy of how many people had their insurance cancelled,” Gardner said.

“She knew it in December, she knew it when she was testifying before the Senate, and she knew it when stories were being written on whether or not intimidation was used to change the 250,000 figure,” Gardner said.

“I want to know why they are not using the true number, and who directed the division of insurance to hide the real numbers, and when did the governor’s office know the number was 335,000?” Gardner said.

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