February 13, 2014
Connect for Health Colorado, the state's Obamacare insurance exchange, is reeling after news surfaced that Christa Ann McClure, a top agency executive, will stand trial in Montana for embezzling from her previous nonprofit employer.
McClure, 51, was hired as Director of Partner Engagement at Connect for Health Colorado in March 2013 after a thorough vetting. She hadn't yet been indicted in the case, which stemmed from her tenure at the helm of Housing Montana of Billings, a federal contractor.
In 2007 the U.S. Department of Agriculture gave the organization a $514,454 grant, which McClure managed, to build 22 homes in rural areas.
Charges were brought on January 16, and she pleaded not guilty in federal court on February 6, answering eight charges of theft and fraud from the nonprofit housing agency.
It wasn't until Monday that she notified Connect for Health Colorado, which promptly placed her on administrative leave, according to The Denver Post.
McClure is free pending trial in June. Her charges could bring between five and 20 years in prison plus a fine of $250,000.
Her Denver-based employer told the Post that she seemed perfect for the $130,000 job, since she had worked before with Medicare officials and both state and federal agencies.
Spokesman Ben Davis said in a statement Wednesday that 'integrity and public trust are paramount to the mission of Connect for Health Colorado. We take extensive measures to protect consumer information and technology systems.'
His organization is on full alert now, scrambling to explain itself to Coloradans.
The charges against her are 'very serious, and we are taking this very seriously,' said Davis.
A center-right advocacy group in Denver also sees the integrity lapse as no small thing.
'Coloradans deserve better than someone who has been accused of fraud and theft running critical components of the state health care exchange,' said Kelly Maher, executive director of Compass Colorado.
'This is very serious. Coloradans have every right to be extremely concerned about these allegations.'
Some state-level marketplaces, such as those in Washington, D.C. and California, have performed more or less as they were designed to. But others have been plagued with self-inflicted wounds as damaging as the one that made the Obama administration's healthcare.gov a national punchline.
Oregon's website, for instance, has yet to function properly.
Now the federal government will likely have to question Connect for Health Colorado's accounting, and the architecture of its data processing, since so many millions of dollars are at stake.
Federal contractors told MailOnline that the Department of Health and Human Services would likely have to commission an audit of the organization's finances.
That could take a long time and leave in limbo the organization's ability to interface with federal government agencies including the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Political analyst Floyd Ciruli told the Post that the entire episode 'simply contributes to the fact that the overall implementation of health-insurance reform has been troubled by an endless series of embarrassments.'
McClure's federal indictment, published online by the Billings Gazette, alleges that between 2008 and 2010 she put 'significant sums' of money in her own pocket for consulting services that she was ineligible to bill for, since her executive director position was already a full-time job.
She also steered money to family and friends for nonexistent work, federal prosecutors say, bought herself a personal laptop computer with federal funds, and cut herself an unauthorized check for $21,000 from the housing agency.
Perhaps more original was McClure's alleged scheme to charge home buyers $750 for a nonexistent warranty, and $1,000 for renting tools that the federal government's grant provided.
She steered that money, the government says, into a separate bank account over which she had more complete control.
McClure's name is still listed as a staffer on Connect for Health Colorado's website. She did not respond for requests for comment.