Colorado Republicans, particularly U.S. Senate candidate Amy Stephens, have been working hard over the last month to damage the credibility of incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Udall in regards to the Affordable Care Act. In late 2013, Udall's office began questioning the accuracy of a number put out by the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) that indicated some 250,000 Coloradans received notices that their health insurance policies would be cancelled in 2014. As we wrote last week, this "scandal" is little more than an attempt by Republicans to make a ridiculous number (250,000) stick in the minds of reporters and other media outlets:
But in this case, not only is their "scandal" weak, its unraveling is actually a very bad thing for the GOP. The facts here are very simple: Of the roughly 250,000 policyholders sent "cancellation letters" in Colorado, 96% of them were actually offered renewals for 2014. It's critical to understand that Colorado's implementation of the Affordable Care Act always allowed these plans to be renewed, and this was essentially what President Barack Obama subsequently allowed nationwide to compensate for the troubled rollout of the exchange.
Bottom line: if 250,000 Coloradans had actually lost coverage on January 1, we're pretty sure the outrage would be on the front page of every newspaper in America. But it didn't happen. In Colorado, many affected by "cancellation notices" no doubt simply renewed their plans like the letter said, and then wondered what the hubbub was. Thousands of "cancellation notices" were flat-out sent in error by sloppy insurers like low-rated Humana. And most importantly, the new insurance exchange has signed up tens of thousands of people.
In a story two days ago from the Denver Post's Kurtis Lee, the 250,000 number was again used in a story about Udall's office and the Affordable Care Act:
Kelley's announcement comes after her office did not provide information on a panel last week that cleared Udall staffers of accusations they bullied division of insurance staffers to change a November report noting 250,000 Coloradans would have individual policies canceled due to the Affordable Care Act. DORA oversees the division of insurance. In an internal e-mail, a division director, Jo Donlin, said a Udall staffer was unjustly trashing the number. Donlin has never spoken about the matter publicly.
It's more than a little ridiculous that the Post continues to use the 250,000 number — particularly when you consider that the same newspaper already ran a story refuting those numbers. Here's former Post reporter Michael Booth investigating the number back in November:
Many of the cancellation notices, however, also contain language allowing customers to renew their existing policies.
One consumer advocacy group said that while the impact on the small number facing an absolute cancellation is real, "there's been a lot of hype and not a lot of drilling down into the facts."
"It's been a small and vocal minority, exacerbated by support from those who oppose Obamacare," said Dede de Percin, director of the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, a supporter of the Affordable Care Act.
So what number should reporters be using? The Post and its editors/copy editors seem confused; Kurtis Lee recently cited the number as a vague "thousands" in a blog post on "The Spot," but it's possible to get much more specific than that. In letters sent by DORA to Rep. Stephens and Congressman Cory Gardner, the state says the number of cancellation notices sent to Coloradans was 335,500 as of Jan. 13; of those, 308,840 were offered options for early renewals within the same letter. In other words, the number of people in Colorado who actually received cancellation notices with no opportunity for renewal is less than 27,000.
We included a handy graphic above as a reminder for anyone paying attention to this non-scandal.