DENVER — Eye-popping salaries proposed for employees of the health benefits exchange being formed in Colorado grabbed the attention of Republicans and Democrats alike on Thursday.
A subcommittee of the board charged with establishing the exchange is considering a draft budget for its federal grant application that would create 24 positions and pay those employees a total of more than $3 million annually to manage the health care cooperative.
“We have executive directors (of state departments) that are in charge of thousands of people here that make significantly less than that,” said Sen. Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs. “You’re setting up a pseudo-government agency that is offering a premium for salaries. I think the public’s going to be very cynical of this, and rightfully so. I am.”
A Democrat on the committee overseeing enactment of health benefits exchange legislation in the state agreed that the figures are worthy of scrutiny.
“At anybody’s first blush, these are really big salaries,” said Rep. Deb Gardner, D-Longmont. “We need to be protecting what we’re doing here in Colorado. We want to make sure we get good value for our money, and it’s hard to tell that that’s the case at this first glance.”
The federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed last year requires every American to have health coverage by 2014. Under the health care overhaul, states were required to establish exchanges. Colorado authorized its exchange this year in SB200.
The exchanges are designed as a clearinghouse that allows individuals and groups to purchase health insurance at discounts that larger risk pools such as big businesses traditionally have enjoyed.
Subcommittees are working through aspects of the exchange ranging from eligibility to disbursement of federal grants. A committee of lawmakers is overseeing development of the exchange within the framework of SB200, and a board with professional insights into health care has been seated as the final authority to develop the exchange.
“If these numbers were to come forward, I think certainly the legislative oversight committee would have some comments about it, because these are big numbers, there’s absolutely no getting around that,” Gardner said. “There’d certainly have to be quite a bit of justification to say why we were doing this.”
The numbers released in the subcommittee’s draft budget are far from finalized. They merely represent a starting point for its application for a federal grant to fund the startup of the exchange.
Cadman criticized the proposed salaries as a disservice to taxpayers in Colorado and nationally.
“Frankly, it starts with federal debt, because there’s not any money,” Cadman said. “That’s a problem.”
“This is what we have the legislative oversight review committee for, to look at issues like this,” Gardner said. “It’ll be interesting to see the board’s response to this.”