Udall’s office pushed back hard on number of health care cancellations
By Todd Shepherd
At the height of controversy surrounding President Obama’s promises on the federal health care overhaul, U.S. Senator Mark Udall’s office worked assiduously to revise press accounts that 249,000 Coloradans received health care cancellation notices. Because the 249,000 figure was produced inside the Colorado Division of Insurance, Udall’s office lobbied that agency to revise the figure, or revise their definition of what qualified as a cancellation.
From an email inside the Colorado Division of Insurance (DOI), Director of External Affairs Jo Donlin bluntly stated to her colleagues:
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. Many have already done early renewals. Regardless, they received cancellation notices.
Donlin’s email was sent November 14.
The following day, Donlin sent an explanation of the Division’s numbers to various members of the Udall staff, and then within hours, sent a follow-up to her colleagues in DOI and Governor Hickenlooper’s office.
“Following my e-mail, I received a very hostile phone call from Udall’s deputy chief of staff. [Insurance Commissioner] Marguerite [Salazar] is on the phone with [Udall's] chief of staff right now. Happy Friday!” (Click here to see the email.)
Worth noting is the fact the original media reports of 249,000 cancellations in the state happened on or about November 6. The dispute between Udall’s office and the Department of Insurance didn’t happen more than a week later on November 14. Specifically, the issue didn’t appear to rise to importance for the Udall office until President Obama decreed citizens could keep cancelled plans.
At the time of President Obama’s decree on November 13, Senator Udall was proposing legislation that would have created a legal framework whereby citizens with cancelled plans could keep said plans for an additional two years.
In yet another email, Udall staffer Joe Britton gives away the extent to which Udall’s office was seeking complicit messaging from the Division of Insurance. ”We need to move on this ASAP – or we’ll be forced to challenge the 249K number ourselves. It is wildly off or at least very misleading and reporters keep repeating it.” Eventually, Udall’s office did take the task upon themselves, successfully garnering a telling of their story in The Denver Post with an online publishing timestamped 4:57 PM MST, November 15. Donlin later alerted several of her colleagues in the Division of Insurance about the online story, saying, “Here’s a link to [Denver Post reporter] Mike Booth’s latest article quoting ‘Sen. Udall staff.’ The online comments are very interesting.”
Additionally, within the same batch of emails obtained by CompleteColorado.com, the Division of Insurance informed Senator Udall that they (and Governor Hickenlooper’s administration) would not be able to support Udall’s ‘keep your cancelled policy’ legislation because it would undermine various actuarial and marketplace assumptions for the Colorado health insurance exchange.
Without question, 249,000 health care policy cancellations did not mean 249,000 Coloradans were left completely bereft of insurance coverage. However, the primary concern from the Udall camp was not completely skipped over during the original reporting of health care cancellations. For example, this online article from 9News states, “The quarter million Coloradans who have lost their existing plans are eligible to buy new, ACA-compliant plans from their old insurer, or enter the state’s insurance exchange.” The same line was repeated, nearly verbatim, in Kyle Clark’s over-the-air report for KUSA at the same link already provided.
Emails requesting comment from both the Division of Insurance and Senator Udall’s office were not returned as of publication of this article, 6:30 PM, Wednesday, January 8.
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