WASHINGTON — Democratic Sen. Mark Udall is under fire from Republicans after revelations that his staff pressured state officials to alter the number of nearly a quarter million Coloradans whose insurance was cancelled because of Obamacare.
Ryan Call, chairman of the Colorado Republican Committee, said the news is “further proof that Mark Udall will say or do anything to save his political career.”
“Coloradans want an honest senator who will do what’s best for the people of our state,” Call said.
Republicans say Udall knowingly misled voters when he repeated claims by President Barack Obama that consumers could keep their current insurance policies and doctors under the new law, which imposes a fine for anyone not carrying medical insurance.
“It’s downright shameful that Sen. Udall would attempt to intimidate state employees to give him political cover after he was caught lying to Coloradans,” Call said.
According to emails from the Colorado Division of Insurance (DOI) that were obtained and published by Complete Colorado on Wednesday, Joe Britton, Udall’s legislative director in the Washington office, claimed the number was wrong and pressured officials to revise their findings to a smaller number.
“They want to trash our numbers,” said an email from Jo Donlin to coworkers on Nov. 14, just days after the number of cancellations were reported by the media.
A second email said Insurance Commissioner Marguerite Salazar received “a very hostile phone call” from Udall’s deputy chief of staff.
The insurance office also alerted officials in the governor’s office they were being pressured by Udall’s staffers to change the numbers, but John Hickenlooper has yet to weigh in on the controversy.
“He’s a fellow Democrat and they’re going to try and protect him,” said former Congressman Tom Tancredo, a Republican challenger for governor.
Asked if the contentious matter is likely to become an issue in the gubernatorial campaign as well as Udall’s own reelection efforts, Tancredo said, “We certainly intend to make it one as this plays out.”
“There is a culpability there in the governor’s office, it’s lack of response, lack of willingness to say anything, because I guarantee his people are telling him to stay out of it, forget about it — who’s going to go after you on it? We can trust the Denver Post not to,” Tancredo added.
The reported interference to rig the numbers prompted Colorado Republican Rep. Cory Gardner to issue a letter to the insurance department Thursday asking that they confirm how many cancellation notices were issued last year.
As a member of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations, Gardner has the responsibility to oversee healthcare coverage and the changes associated with Obamacare.
“As such, we need the most accurate information possible in order to fully evaluate the effects of this law on individuals and the health insurance industry,” Gardner said.
Republican strategist Dick Wadhams told The Washington Times that the emails reveal a “serious ethical breach” in Udall’s Senate office.
“For his office to call up a state agency and ask them to jiggle the numbers is reprehensible,” Wadhams said.
“Clearly the DOI staff felt bullied, and in fact the DOI numbers were correct. They just didn’t fit into Sen. Udall’s political agenda,” Wadhams said.
Udall’s press secretary did not respond to The Colorado Observer’s request for comment, but told other media outlets their office disputed the number because the cancellation notice also said that most people would be able to renew their plan, albeit at higher premiums.
“To the average Coloradan, that is not a cancellation,” Mike Saccone told FOX31 Denver.
Udall also continued to dispute the number in an interview with the Denver Post on Thursday and defended his staff’s actions.
“I put my team to work to find out whether those numbers would stand up to scrutiny,” Udall said.
State Rep. Amy Stephens, a Republican challenging Udall in this year’s election, released a statement calling the attempts to alter the statistics “appalling and shameful.”
“It is clear that Senator Udall tried to use his official office to advance his political interests by pressuring state officials to change facts that he realizes are extremely damaging for his flailing re-election campaign,” Stephens said.
“Senator Udall’s actions raise very serious ethical questions that deserve a full investigation by state and federal authorities to uphold public confidence in our government,” Stephens said.
Udall is a freshman senator who voted for Obamacare in 2010 and continues to defend the law in light of massive rollout failures and millions of health insurance polices that have been cancelled nationwide.
Recent polling shows Obamacare has not been popular in Colorado, with 70 percent saying the rollout was not successful, while only 30 percent defended the new law, according to Public Policy Polling last month.
The same polling company says Udall’s approval numbers are also faltering with a 41 percent disapproval rating, and 40 percent approval rating.
The Republican National Committee has targeted Udall for defeat in the November election, and released radio ads this week in English and Spanish reminding voters that Obama and Udall promised voters they could keep their health insurance.
“It looks like lying and trying to cover it up is also part of Obamacare — it’s an integral part of it,” Tancredo said.
“It’s not surprising that one would try to get as far away from Obamacare as they possibly can, but the next step in actually trying to get somebody to cook the numbers so that it would look better, that’s just amazing to me that step was taken by [Udall’s] office,” Tancredo added.