Wright: Audit state health exchange expenses
Rep. Jared Wright is calling for an audit of the state’s new health insurance exchange.
But the Fruita Republican isn’t asking the Office of the State Auditor to look into why the exchange is far behind its goal for signing Coloradans up for health insurance.
Wright wants State Auditor Dianne Ray to look into how the exchange is managed, and what it’s doing with the millions of dollars in federal money it’s received.
The freshman legislator’s audit request was sparked by a recent request by the president and chief executive officer of the exchange, Connect for Health Colorado, to its governing board for a pay raise and bonus for her and her management staff.
That CEO, Patty Fontneau, already makes more than $190,000 a year.
“This is an appalling and extraordinarily audacious request, especially considering that the program which Ms. Fontneau oversees has spectacularly underperformed, failing to meet the minimum goals and standards of even the worst-case projections,” Wright says in his letter to Ray, which he sent on Thursday. “Despite receiving $177 million in federal grants to fund the exchange through mid-2016, its enrollments are far below what officials predicted. It is disturbing that the person in charge of a program with such a dismal record of performance is paid more than the governor.”
The governor only makes $90,000 a year, far less than even members of his own Cabinet, who average about $150,000 a year in pay.
The to-do over Fontneau’s pay request, which was first reported by the online publication, Health Policy Solutions, late last month, prompted her to back off the request.
“The attention about my compensation has been a distraction at a time when we are all focused on helping Coloradans enroll in health coverage,” Fontneau said in a statement Friday.
“We have asked the board to table any discussions about compensation for management, so that we can focus on enrollments during this critical time,” she said in the statement.
That statement was released by OnSight Public Affairs, a private consulting firm contracted by the exchange to handle, among other things, “communications and outreach services,” Myung Oak Kim, director of communications and outreach for the exchange, wrote in an email to The Daily Sentinel.
In his letter to Ray, Wright questioned the need to hire that public affairs firm, saying the exchange already has Oak Kim, who earns nearly $98,000 a year.
Wright said the hired firm is a partisan organization employed by Democratic candidates and left-leaning organizations.
Officials at the firm declined to be quoted for this story, despite exchange officials directing reporters to the firm for comment on enrollment figures and other exchange matters.
On its website, the firm touts such clients as U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-7th, and Project New West, a left-leaning organization. It also is employed by the Asian Pacific Development Center and Pedal the Plains cycling race.
Oak Kim said the firm along with two others were hired through a competitive bidding process to do such things as advertising, market research and communications and outreach services.
“We are not a political entity and our contractors support our mission to increase access, affordability and choice for individuals, families and small businesses in Colorado seeking health insurance,” she said of the exchange in an email.
Along with Oak Kim and Fontneau, the exchange employs 34 other people, some of whom have “communications,” “outreach” and “marketing” duties in their job titles.
“It would appear the Connect for Health Colorado has been far less than transparent in its financial dealings,” Wright writes in his letter. “Furthermore, I would ask that the State Auditor’s Office investigate specifically what individuals and agencies (the exchange) contracts with, in order to determine the appropriateness of a state agency paying for the services of a firm with such solid connections to one political party.”
On its website, the exchange posted an audit of itself last month, citing an “independent auditor.” That audit, however, doesn’t identify who the auditor was.
Oak Kim also didn’t respond to a question about whether the exchange, which was established as a nonprofit organization and not as a state agency, considers itself subject to the auspices of the state auditor’s office.
Jenny Atchley, communications director for the office, said the law that established the exchange clearly gives the nonpartisan auditor’s office the authority to examine the exchange.
She said Wright’s audit request, which any statehouse member is allowed to make, is expected to be considered by the Legislative Audit Committee in January.
If that committee approves it, auditors will do a preliminary examination to determine if a full audit is warranted, which the committee will vote on, Atchley said.
The audit committee is made up of eight members, four from each political party. Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, is scheduled to take over as chairman of that committee next month.