WASHINGTON — Colorado’s insurance commissioner may have misled a state Senate panel Thursday prior to her confirmation vote when she said Sen. Mark Udall’s office did not act inappropriately by insisting she downgrade the number of cancelled health policies due to Obamacare.
Marguerite Salazar defended Udall and his Democratic staffers claiming their actions were no different from that of Republican Rep. Cory Gardner, who wrote to the insurance commission last week after emails revealed Udall staffers had tried to manipulate the numbers.
“Now what I think Sen. Udall’s spokesman tried to do, was see how did this impact the Colorado population — he wanted to see what were the options that his constituents had and that was the framework I received questions,” Salazar said.
“This is not unlike a letter I recently received from Rep. Cory Gardner, he’s asking the same kinds of questions but his were framed in, ‘how did you arrive at these numbers?’” Salazar told the state Senate Committee on Business, Labor and Technology.
Gardner was contacted after Salazar’s hearing and said her characterization of his letter was considerably off the mark.
“That is spin gone wild,” Gardner told The Colorado Observer.
“I was asking if Sen. Udall cooked the books and if she changed the numbers in response,” Gardner told The Colorado Observer.
“But look, I understand why — she’s a Democratic appointee and she is answering to a Democratic governor who is doing everything he can to try and cover for one of the most vulnerable U.S. senators in the nation for an election coming up in just a few months,” Gardner said.
“So the spin room is in full gear trying to cover the trail of a senator who tried to cook the books, and she’s unfortunately taking the fall,” Gardner said.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper appointed Salazar to the insurance commission post in August, just a few months before Obamacare took effect. The Senate committee voted unanimously Thursday after Salazar’s comments to move her confirmation to the full state Senate for a vote.
Complete Colorado last week revealed several emails from an insurance commission director who described their conflict with Udall’s office and that “They want to trash our numbers.”
“Sen. Udall says our numbers were wrong,” Director Jo Donlin said in the email to colleagues.
The emails described “hostile” phone calls with Udall staffers, and stated that the governor’s office had been alerted that Udall’s office was pressuring them to change their report that nearly one-quarter million Coloradoans had lost their insurance.
During her confirmation hearing, Salazar downplayed the incident and said there was a fundamental question as to whether the cancellation notices were “cancellation letters with an option to renew, or were they options to renew in the form of a cancellation letter?”
The commission determined that the cancellation notices were in fact, cancellation notices, and Salazar praised Udall’s staff for the phone calls and questions saying “Those kinds of inquiries make us stronger I believe.”
Udall has defended his office’s action and says his staffers’ actions were not inappropriate.
Washington lawmakers might disagree, and are pursuing an official inquiry of their own to determine if Udall and his staffers acted inappropriately.
Gardner has been in discussions with leaders of the House Oversight Committee and Energy and Commerce Committee, and says hearings are likely.
“I think anytime you have an office that is caught red-handed in a hostile phone call where they are trying to change what is recognized as legitimate numbers for political purposes, that’s an inappropriate use of government power,” Gardner said.
“It’s clear from the emails the senator wasn’t worried about the 250,000 people who lost their insurance, he wanted to change the numbers so it didn’t look bad,” Gardner said.
House lawmakers are also investigating whether similar political moves by different lawmakers were made in other states where cancellation numbers were high due to Obamacare.
Asked if the issue was going away anytime soon, Gardner said, “No, there are 250,000 Coloradans who deserve an answer.”