State Sen. Owen Hill (R-Colorado Springs) said he was “floored” by the Connect for Health Colorado board’s vote Monday to grant the bonus and 2.5 percent cost-of-living raise to CEO Patty Fontneau, which was first reported by Health News Colorado’s Katie Kerwin McCrimmon.
Conservatives, including Hill, reacted by calling on Hickenlooper to launch an audit of the health-care exchange. A bill sponsored by state Rep. Dan Nordberg (R-Colorado Springs) to audit the exchange was killed in March by Senate Democrats, and the state legislature adjourned last week.
“If Hickenlooper was a real leader, he’d say, ‘Clearly this is not working, we need to have a bottom-up look, turn over every stone, audit and have full transparency for what’s really going on here,’” said Hill. “What do they have to hide by denying this kind of transparency and this kind of audit?”
Americans for Prosperity-Colorado launched an online petition drive Monday for an “objective, full, and forthright accounting of how our state’s Obamacare exchange, Connect for Health Colorado, is using our taxpayer dollars and carrying out its duties.”
“CEO Patty Fontneau’s payout comes in the wake of recent news reports that didn’t reflect well on her honesty and management acumen, raising questions about whether there’s a disconnect between pay and performance at Connect for Health Colorado,” said Dustin Zvonek, AFP-Colorado director.
A Senate committee sunk the audit bill, which was passed by the House, after Fontneau said that the exchange had already undergone a federal audit. In fact, state staff had self-reported the exchange’s financial status by filling out federal forms, according to documents obtained by The Colorado Observer.
“Now we learn that Ms. Fontneau thinks all Coloradans should pay a tax to prop up her struggling organization,” said Zvonek. “It’s time for Gov. Hickenlooper to do his job and find out how Ms. Fontneau and her employees are spending taxpayer dollars.”
The Connect for Health board is considering raising its 1.4 percent “user fee” on those who buy insurance through the exchange, in addition to tacking fees onto those who obtain their insurance elsewhere.
That additional fee would affect an estimated 875,000 residents who buy insurance outside the exchange and raise an estimated $13 million, a financial infusion needed to make the exchange self-sufficient after federal funding for the exchanges dries up at the end of the year.
Connect for Health Colorado had already come under criticism in April for granting a 10 percent raise to its chief marketing officer and planning to spend $7 million in the next fiscal year on its 49 full-time employees, along with their travel, meetings and office space.
“They’re so tight on money that they’re talking about doing a $13 million unconstitutional tax on health-insurance plans,” said Mr. Hill. “This [fee] is going to hit every Coloradan, whether you buy through the exchange or not. So they’re taxing Coloradans $13 million because they’re in such dire financial straits, yet they’re giving the CEO of their broken system another $14,000 a year?”
Hill pointed out that all tax increases must be approved by the voters under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.
The state health-care exchange has received $177 million in federal funds for the roll-out, which has yet to meet expectations. About 129,000 Coloradans have signed up for health-insurance coverage on the exchange, or about one-third of the 337,000 residents whose plans were cancelled last year.
“What’s going on with health care in our state harms young people, it harms families,” said Colorado Republican strategist Jonathan Lockwood. “If it wasn’t such an outrage and a serious issue, you could call it a joke. It’s comedy hour apparently to these people.”