Lawmaker increases oversight of health exchange

By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon

There’s a new sheriff in town. And her name is Ellen Roberts.

For years, the legislative committee charged with keeping an eye on Colorado’s health exchange rarely met and mostly rubber-stamped reports and budgets from Connect for Health Colorado.

Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, has called previous exchange oversight measures a "mockery." She's launching new hearings to try to uncover causes for problems at Connect for Health Colorado.

Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, has called previous exchange oversight measures a “mockery.” She’s launching new hearings to try to uncover causes for problems at Connect for Health Colorado.

Now Sen. Roberts, R-Durango, is the new chair of the committee and she plans to hold regular hearings to find out why glitches are hampering Colorado’s exchange.

“I take the word oversight literally,” Roberts said Wednesday after the first in a series of hearings she plans to hold this spring.

She said she’s heard from numerous constituents both from her district and around the state that their inability to sign up through Colorado’s exchange has jeopardized their health. Because some people have struggled to sign up for insurance, they have delayed care.

“It lands on the legislature to address this,” Roberts said.

Along with Roberts’ investigative hearings, a new audit of the health exchange is expected to launch within weeks. Both chambers of the legislature passed measures to require a broad performance audit, and Gov. John Hickenlooper is expected to sign the audit bill within days.

Jenny Page, an audit manager who supervised the first, limited audit of the exchange last year, testified to the 10 members of the oversight committee about the many problems her team found.

“Assuming the bill is signed, we will then determine the scope (of the next audit),” Page told lawmakers. “Typically we would take a broad view and look at operations, the effectiveness and efficiency of operations.”

She also said auditors would look at financial sustainability.

The first audit focused only on money that the exchange had received.

“We had four findings, all classified as significant deficiencies,” Page said of the earlier audit. “There were problems with non-compliance with federal laws and federal regulations.”

Hickenlooper’s deputy chief of staff, David Padrino, also has convened talks to try to hammer out agreements between exchange and Medicaid managers who have been sparring over problems with shared IT systems that have slowed sign-ups.

Roberts’ increased scrutiny comes after she became so frustrated with the legislative review committee that she quit for a time.

During one committee meeting in May of 2013, Roberts called any oversight of the exchange a “mockery.” Exchange officials wanted approval for a $125 million request for federal cash, yet they had failed to brief lawmakers about costs for the exchange until the morning of the hearing. (Click here to read Despite outrage, exchange wants an additional $125 million.)

Roberts decided to return to the committee and take over as its chair after a scathing audit of the exchange came out in December.

On Wednesday morning, she made it clear that she intends to do some fact-finding and try to snap the exchange into shape.

From now through the end of the legislative session, Roberts plans to hold committee meetings every other week at 7:30 a.m. She also wants to introduce a bill that will allow the oversight committee to meet more often so that it can continue its sessions through the summer and fall.

“We have some major problems,” Roberts told fellow lawmakers. “I would like to use this time to dig in deeply and find out the current state of affairs.”

In other exchange news, Hickenlooper on Tuesday appointed a new board member for the exchange. Adela Flores-Brennan, executive director of the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, will join the board. In a written statement, she said her primary goal is to ensure the “success and sustainability of the exchange.”

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