Opinion | Morgan Liddick: Connect for Health Colorado CEO asks for raise while lowering the bar | SummitDaily.com

Opinion | Morgan Liddick: Connect for Health Colorado CEO asks for raise while lowering the bar

Morgan Liddick lives in Summit County. His column appears in every Tuesday in the Summit Daily News.
btrollinger@summitdaily.com |

Patty Fontneau wants a raise. I can see why. Ms. Fontneau is the CEO of Connect for Health Colorado, our state’s version of an Obamacare-mandated health insurance exchange, and that’s difficult work. It’s undoubtedly worth far more than the miserly $190,549 a year taxpayers are dishing out now — and that $5,000 raise last year was just insulting. So yes; she’s asked for the raise and bonus, both of which are allowed in her contract.

Just for good measure, Ms. Fontneau asked that her chief operating officer, Lindy Hinman, and chief financial officer, Cammie Blais, get raises as well. At present, they both receive $164,800 annually. It may not be much, but … what’s a girl to do?

What takes this action beyond the run-of-the-mill grab-all-you-can-with-both-hands corruption and cronyism one sometimes encounters in state government is the sheer, unmitigated gall of the request. Connect for Health Colorado has enrolled 9,980 — less than half of the minimum number of people analysts were predicting. This level of overcompensation for dismal underperformance is what one expects from terminally ill corporations, not from dedicated stewards of public monies.

Congressman Cory Gardner, who receives a salary of $174,000 a year for taking care of the interests of Colorado’s 4th District in Congress, doesn’t think much of Ms. Fontneau’s request. In fact, given Connect for Health’s failure to meet even the lowest of expectations, he thinks nobody deserves a raise, and he’s preparing legislation to that effect.

Congressman Gardner’s thoughts are in the right place, but he’s far too kind. Underperformance — especially at the level of Connect for Health Colorado — shouldn’t be punished by withholding raises and bonuses. Heads should roll, and others should be found with the ability to make things work. That’s the way this country has always succeeded, and since we created IBM, Apple, Amazon, PayPal, Facebook and a myriad of other successes, how hard can it be to find someone with those abilities and drive?

Perhaps harder than it seems, given the unstated requirements. Consider “OnSite,” the firm hired to do public relations and “outreach” for Connect for Health. Doubtless they’ve earned their keep, what with deflecting the fallout from ProgressNow’s “I love Obamacare exchanges because I’m a drunk/ginormous tramp” campaign and the current dust-up over Ms. Fontneau’s compensation. But OnSite also managed John Hickenlooper’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign and is working on his 2014 re-election bid. In this game it’s not what you know, but whom.

In the real world, results matter. In the real world if one pays for performance, one expects performance or pink slips are involved. In the real world, yes — but evidently not in the world of government programs, where performance on the level of Kmart or Solyndra is considered reason for celebration and reward.

Friday last, Ms. Fontneau decided to “table” her request for raises and a bonus, calling the outrage it created a “distraction,” which indeed it is. For her, it’s a distraction from the business of cutting the public purse in the name of some imagined but undelivered good, a distraction because she got caught. But we should not allow ourselves to be distracted.

We could write this off as yet another sordid episode in Obamacare’s recent history of failures and disappointments, but there is a larger message. As a high-level government functionary, Ms. Fortneau sees herself as one of the elect — Those Who Are Smarter and Better Than You — so asking for more is second nature, and having to forgo a raise for performance that would get a garden-variety cashier fired is an affront. Who are we, mere taxpayers, to demand better?

And that’s the real question. We pay for everything government does. It is in our name that government programs are called into being, and it is our benefit that justifies them.

But when only bureaucrats and political cronies profit, how are our interests served? When programs underperform or fail, how do we benefit?

Soon, Connect for Health Colorado will have to reveal the details of the paltry few who are enrolling. Will they be predominantly the “young invincibles” on whose funds the rest of the enrollees — the older, sicker Coloradoans signing up — must rely? Or will they predominantly be the latter, posing serious economic challenges for the system’s insurers? If this is the case, Connect for Health Colorado must fail. What will our response be to that?

Will someone get a raise?

Morgan Liddick lives in Summit County.

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