- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 15, 2014

DENVER — Angry Colorado Republicans are calling for an investigation one day after state regulators said Sen. Mark Udall’s staff did nothing improper in pressuring an agency to revise its health-insurance cancellation figures.

State Insurance Commissioner Marguerite Salazar defended the Democratic senator at a Tuesday legislative hearing, saying that testy email exchanges like the ones between his aides and state regulators happen “all the time.”

Meanwhile, the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies on Tuesday rejected a request for an investigation into whether Mr. Udall’s staff tried to intimidate state Division of Insurance employees into downsizing the Obamacare-spurred cancellation figures.

“There is no information to support an allegation of real (or perceived) intimidation, or inappropriate or undue pressure,” said department Executive Director Barbara Kelley in a letter. “There was a disagreement among staff about how to characterize the data.”

A series of emails released last week by the website Complete Colorado showed that Mr. Udall’s staff challenged state regulators after they released figures in November showing that nearly 250,000 Coloradans had received health-insurance cancellation notices.

One email from Jo Donlin, director of external affairs for the state insurance division, said that Mr. Udall’s staff “wants to trash our numbers.”

SEE ALSO: Colo. Sen. Udall under fire for attempting to alter health care cancellation stats

“Sen. Udall says our numbers were wrong. They are not wrong. Cancellation notices affected 249,199 people. They want to trash our numbers. I’m holding strong while we get more details,” said Ms. Donlin in a Nov. 14 email.

Colorado Republicans, outraged by the apparent exoneration of Mr. Udall and his staff, accused state bureaucrats of trying to help Mr. Udall out of a jam. Ms. Salazar was appointed by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who also appoints the heads of state agencies.

“The Department of Regulatory Agencies can run interference on behalf of Sen. Udall and his abusive staff if it chooses, but the intimidating emails from Udall’s staff speak for themselves,” said Republican state Rep. Amy Stephens, who filed the request for an investigation.

Ms. Stephens is one of several Republicans seeking the party’s nomination to run against Mr. Udall, who is up for re-election in November.

“This incident remains unprecedented in Colorado where a United States senator and his staff attempted to intimidate a state agency to falsify public records to help that senator’s political agenda,” said Ms. Stephens.
Rep. Cory Gardner, Colorado Republican, described Ms. Salazar’s downplaying of the episode as “spin gone wild,” according to the Colorado Observer.

“[S]he’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,” said Mr. Gardner.

Meanwhile, Mr. Gardner released a letter Tuesday from the state Division of Insurance showing that 335,484 Coloradans have now received health-insurance cancellations as a result of the Affordable Care Act, up 86,285 from the number reported in November.

Mr. Udall’s staff argued that the vast majority of those receiving cancellations were immediately offered new policies that met the Affordable Care Act’s expanded requirements, although critics argue that the renewals also came with higher premiums.

Udall spokesman James Owens said in a statement that the “productive interaction” between the Senate staff and state insurance officials “helped the Division of Insurance arrive at a number that has more relevance for health care consumers because cancellations with renewal options are different from cancellations without renewal options.”

“This was Sen. Udall’s objective all along — to ensure that the vast majority of Coloradans who received notice became aware that they could re-enroll in a health insurance plan,” said Mr. Owens.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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