Legislature

Committee rejects audit for health insurance exchange effort

Exchange has already cleared four independent efforts

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A bill that would have allowed for Colorado's health insurance marketplace to face a state audit died on a party-line vote in a Democrat-controlled Senate committee on March 26.

The bill had received overwhelming bipartisan support in the House, but the Senate Health and Human Services Committee rejected the legislation, with Democrats arguing that Connect for Health Colorado is already being scrutinized by independent auditors as well as the federal government.

“I'm worried that we're... throwing more government at them when they have already hired private people to look at their performance,” said Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, the committee chairwoman.

Connect for Health Colorado is the state's health insurance marketplace for Coloradans who wish to shop for insurance opportunities that were made possible through the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as ObamaCare.

Earlier this year, the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Committee recommended on a 7-1 vote to grant the state auditor the ability to conduct a full performance audit of the health benefit exchange.

The health exchange has received several millions of dollars in grant funding and Republican bill sponsors told the committee that it would be a good idea to make sure the money is being used correctly.

“One hundred and seventy-seven million dollars in federal grants is a lot of money and I think it's prudent for Colorado to empower our state auditor to perform a performance audit,” Sen. David Balmer, R-Centennial, told the committee.

State Auditor Dianne Ray testified that any time a new program operates with a large amount of money behind it and it uses that money in a short period of time, it's a good idea to examine its practices.

Right now, Ray said her office is limited in the type of an audit it can conduct on the Colorado Health Network. For example, her office would be unable to look at things like information technology issues and whether Connect for Health's enrollment projections are “reasonable.”

“We can't look at anything outside of just the moneys,” she said.

But Connect for Health Colorado CEO Patty Fontneau said the exchange has had four “clean” independent audits already. She also told the committee that the Internal Revenue Service has done a review of the exchange and that the benefit marketplace also reports to the federal government on a monthly basis.

Sen. Jeanne Nicholson, D-Black Hawk, said it would be premature for the state to launch an audit of a new program, especially since auditors wouldn't have any “best practice” measures for which to provide a comparison.

“I think that they already have a number of audits that have demonstrated their performances have been far better than most of the health exchanges in the other states,” Nicholson said.

Democratic Sens. Linda Newell of Littleton and John Kefalas of Fort Collins joined Nicholson and Aguilar in voting against the bill. Republican Sens. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs, Larry Crowder of Alamosa and Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud all voted no.

Republicans insisted that the legislation wasn't a commentary on the Affordable Care Act, which their party has adamantly opposed, both here and nationally.

“It's important to separate the oranges from the apples,” Lundberg, a committee member, said. "This is not a statement for or against the exchange or for or against the national Obamacare program.”

However, after the vote, Lundberg blasted Democrats on the committee for killing the legislation, “in an attempt to cover up the failures of ObamaCare.”