By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon
Colorado’s health exchange likely will be subject to much more intense financial scrutiny after a bill calling for a full audit passed the Colorado Senate unanimously on Tuesday.
That’s a striking change from last year when Senate Democrats torpedoed a similar measure that had passed the House with all but one vote.
In addition to the bill authorizing a thorough new audit, lawmakers want to limit bonuses for exchange managers after the former CEO, Patty Fontneau, received a $14,291 bonus in 2014 and an $18,500 bonus in 2012. Before leaving Connect for Health Colorado last August, Fontneau was earning $195,314, more than twice the governor’s salary and one of the highest salaries among leaders of state health exchanges.
The health exchange board is currently seeking a successor.
The measure related to bonuses, SB 15-052, passed the full Senate by a vote of 24 to 11, picking up some votes from Democrats. The audit bill, SB 15-019, passed 35 to 0. Both now move on to the House, where Democrats control the chamber, but support for closer scrutiny of the health exchange was widespread last year.
During discussion of the bills yesterday, Republican lawmakers complained about the problems that their constituents are having trying to buy health insurance through the exchange.
Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, was furious that executives at the exchange had gotten bonuses when a narrow audit last year found widespread problems with financial management at Connect for Health and that some customers had struggled to sign up.
“I usually have the hope that I can make a difference,” Roberts said. “In this case, I have hit dead end after dead end.”
Roberts said she heard from one couple who had been trying to sign up for coverage since November. But a new system that’s supposed to be easier for consumers has instead snarled thousands of customers.
The couple Roberts cited earned about $30,000 a year. But the IT system kept incorrectly adding income to their profile, eventually figuring they earned about $275,000 a year.
They were unable to get tax subsidies or buy any insurance for coverage by Jan. 1, Roberts said. While officials with the state Medicaid system and the state exchange kept saying the problems would be resolved, Roberts said she had her doubts.
The final deadline to sign up for coverage for this year — unless a person changes jobs or has a life-change event, such as a move or a change of employment — is Feb. 15.
Roberts cited others who have struggled.
“These folks are all trying and getting nowhere,” Roberts said. “I understand the exchange was an ambitious project … but what matters is people are caught in the crosshairs of the exchange. In the meantime, they’re facing penalties for failure to get health care.”
Other lawmakers cited the millions in taxpayer money that have been spent on the exchange or the high deductibles — of up to $5,000 per year — that many customers are finding they have to pay on insurance policies through the exchange.
“I hope that we can someday get control of this out-of-control program that has spent more than $170 million (in tax money) so far,” said Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud. “Oversight is appropriate and this bill is most needed.”