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Letters reject claims of bullying by Sen. Mark Udall, increase insurance cancellation number

January 14, 2014 Updated: January 15, 2014 at 6:53 am
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FILE - In this Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013 file photo, Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. Republicans say Udall tried to put pressure on state health officials to change the number of people who had their health insurance policies cancelled. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh,File)

The head of a Colorado regulatory agency on Tuesday denied claims that Sen. Mark Udall bullied the state's insurance division. Also Tuesday, another state official revealed far more Coloradans received insurance cancellation letters than previously reported.

In separate letters, two high-ranking state regulators sought to address concerns of Republican lawmakers who questioned emails sent by aides of Udall, D-Colo., as well as the Colorado Division of Insurance's tally of canceled health insurance policies.

A Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies internal review found "no evidence" Udall's staff tried to intimidate or coerce state regulators, the agency's executive director wrote to state Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument.

Meanwhile, the state's insurance commissioner, Marguerite Salazar, revealed that 335,484 Coloradans received insurance cancellation letters, about 86,000 more than previously reported.

Salazar's letter to Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., also revealed the division knew that at least 300,000 Coloradans received cancellation notices in early December, though regulators never announced the figure.

Gardner called the new cancellation figure "stunning" and said he is concerned the information was not released earlier.

The issue of cancellation letters became a political headache for President Barack Obama in the fall. Millions of letters were sent to policyholders across the nation - after Obama promised that people could keep their health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act.

In early November, the Colorado Division of Insurance announced that 249,199 Coloradans had received cancellation notices.

The division issued a second news release Dec. 3, stating that more than 95 percent of residents who received a cancellation notice could opt for "early renewal." The option allowed policyholders to retain their insurance benefits for one more year if they renewed their policies by Dec. 31.

Recently, Gardner and Stephens sent letters to the division asking for clarification on the number of cancellation notices, as well as an ethics investigation into actions by Udall's office.

In a Tuesday email, Barbara Kelley, executive director of the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, rebutted any suspicions that Udall's office intimidated the insurance division's staff.

Kelley reiterated testimony given by Salazar on Monday at her first confirmation hearing for commissioner of the state Division of Insurance, noting the issue was a "disagreement among staff about how to characterize the data."

Kelley also pointed to a fact-finding panel from her office that reviewed emails and interviewed several division employees.

"Any characterization as 'intimidation' is not supported by the facts," Kelley wrote to Stephens.

A Udall spokesman said the review's finding offered vindication for the senator's staff and the senator's goal of letting Coloradans know that the option for "early renewal" existed.

Stephens dismissed Kelley's letter. In a statement, she said that Kelley's agency "can run interference on behalf of Senator Udall and his abusive staff, if it chooses, but the intimidating emails from Udall's staff speak for themselves."

Salazar's letter to Gardner focused largely on cancellation statistics.

In it, Salazar said the division based its Dec. 3 news release on a revised tally of 326,587 people affected by cancellation letters - a figure never announced by the division.

The letter also said that additional research this week by the division led to the updated figure of 335,484 affected residents - 92 percent of whom were offered the option of "early renewal."

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