Intimidate or elucidate?

A state agency on Tuesday said Sen. Mark Udall’s staff did not engage in attempts to intimidate the state’s Division of Insurance last year into changing its report on the numbers of Coloradans who had their health insurance canceled as a result of Obamacare.

But it should came as no surprise that Tuesday’s announcement has done little to stem Republican criticism of Udall and his staff. This is, after all, an election year, and Udall is believed to be among the most vulnerable Democratic senators facing re-election. Furthermore, among his most vocal critics is a Republican state lawmaker who hopes to unseat Udall.

Additionally, Udall’s staff appeared ham-handed enough in its handling of the matter to at least raise suspicion of attempted intimidation.

Still, this whole fracas is not on the order of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s Bridgegate. in which Christie’s staff used the power of the governor’s office to close portions of a busy bridge to punish political opponents.

Udall and his staff had some legitimate concerns about the cancellation numbers released by the state last November. His point was that, while there may have been 250,000 people in Colorado who saw their health insurance canceled as a result of the Affordable Care Act, the vast majority of them — Udall said 98 percent — were given the option to renew their policies.

Udall wasn’t asking the the state Division of Insurance to fudge the figures, but to clarify them, he said. However, emails from an insurance commission director — made public last week by the conservative website, Complete Colorado — indicated that the director believed Udall’s staff wanted “to trash our numbers” and engaged in “hostile” phone calls with people in the division.

That hardly sounds like an amicable discussion over clarifying the numbers, even if Barbara Kelley, director of the Department of Regulatory Agencies, said Tuesday it didn’t rise to the level of intimidation.

There are several problems for Udall, even with Kelley’s letter. First, he is a Democratic senator whose staff was accused of pressuring people in one division of a state government run by a Democratic administration, and he was cleared by another division in that same Democratic administration. And all this over a highly contentious Democratic health care bill.

Little wonder that Republicans aren’t simply dropping the issue.

“The Department of Regulatory Agencies can run interference on behalf of Udall and his abusive staff, if it chooses, but intimidating emails from Udall’s staff speak for themselves,” Rep. Amy Stephens told The Denver Post. Stephens is the lawmaker who requested that Kelley’s department investigate the matter, and she is one of several Republicans vying to run against Udall.

There is even talk by some Republicans in Colorado’s congressional delegation of a congressional investigation into how Udall and his staff handled the issue.

No one, least of all Udall and his staff, should expect that Tuesday’s ruling by Kelley marks the end of this matter.


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Today’s Sentinel editorial – “Intimidate or elucidate” – discredits itself and disserves its readership by, first, positing a false equivalency between Democratic Senator Udall’s staff inquiries into numbers reported by the Colorado Division of Insurance (“CDI”) and the actions of New Jersey’s Republican Governor Christie’s staff in “Bridgegate”; and, second, by uncritically regurgitating Josh Penry’s partisan poppycock in Friday’s Sentinel – “As Obamacare crumbles, Sen. Udall resorts to bullying and distortion”.

As more accurately reported by the AP – “Udall pressured state on health care figures, GOP says” – this just another “tempest in a teapot” being ginned-up by frustrated Republicans who have lost the policy debate over the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”).

The key phrase is “GOP says” – betraying the underlying partisan motivation.  Contrary to Penry’s, FoxNoise’s, the GOP’s – and now the Sentinel’s – gross distortion, there is no evidence that Senator Udall was personally involved at all, much less “bullied” and/or “pressured” anyone, or “distorted” anything. 

Rather, last November, Senator Udall may have instructed his staff to question the CDI’s use of the term “affected” to describe the number of Coloradans who “received” cancellation notices in 2013.  Whether (if at all) and/or how those recipients were “affected” is a separate question not answered by that number.

Thus, 200,000,000 already-insured Americans were “affected” by the ACA – and none are now threatened by arbitrary cancellations when coverage is most needed.

Moreover, the ACA did not “force” the issuance of 249,000 cancellation letters.  Rather, insurers induced many to abandon policies “grandfathered” in 2010, and then marketed low-cost non-compliant policies through 2013 (without adequately informing consumers) – thereby “forcing” themselves to issue cancellation letters.

Finally, the “Harvard Study” Penry cited covered only the first 18 months after Oregon expanded Medicaid coverage in 2008.  Initially, emergency room visits by Medicaid patients increased – as the previously uninsured entered the health care system for the first time.  Thereafter, as in Massachusetts too, emergency room visits fell – because those now-covered Medicaid patients had been referred to primary care providers.

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