Udall staff bullied state officials over Obamacare-caused cancellation numbers

Sen. Mark Udall’s staffers pressured Colorado state officials to change their figures on the number of Obamacare cancellations in the state. This is clear from emails obtained by the blog The Complete Colorado.

The Colorado Division of Insurance announced in November that insurance companies were cancelling policies for just under 250,000 state residents. That number received news coverage and, according to Politico, was cited by President Obama.

Udall, without whose vote Obamacare would not have been enacted, is running for reelection in 2014. The story of mass cancellations was embarrassing to him.

Accordingly, his staff contacted staff at the Colorado Division of Insurance in an attempt to get them to change the numbers. Director of External Affairs Jo Donlin stated in an email, “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.”

The next day, Donlin sent an explanation of the numbers to members of Udall’s staff. They were not mollified. Donlin reported:

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.

The “hostility” of Udall’s staff probably stems from the urgent need it perceived to reverse the narrative. As one staffer emailed, “”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.”

Udall’s team felt the figures were misleading because the 250,000 (or so) cancellations did not leave that many Coloradans unable to obtain health care coverage. The vast majority of those who received cancellation notices had the option of renewing coverage until November 2014.

But the Colorado Division of Insurance’s information was correct nonetheless. There were almost 250,000 cancellations.

If Udall’s staff was simply inquiring about the numbers or suggesting that they were misleading, given the renewal option, that doesn’t seem scandalous. But Donlin’s emails show that more than this was going on. Udall’s deputy chief of staff was “hostile” and strident. If this were Chris Christie, we might even say that they were engaged in bullying.

It should also be noted that Udall’s spin — that renewal was available — was not being obscured by the media. As The Complete Colorado points out, news outlets in Denver reported that “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.”

If, as appears, Udall’s staff tried to bully state officials into being a party to their spin, they acted improperly. The cancellation numbers were the cancellation numbers and the state should not have been pressured, or even asked, to modify them.


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