Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius' fundraising efforts on behalf of a not-for-profit group leading Obamacare enrollment efforts were limited to two previously disclosed phone calls, according to a report issued Monday by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and H&R Block received solicitations from Sebelius last year to back the efforts of Enroll America, which was started to help spur enrollments under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The foundation contributed $13 million to the charitable organization following the phone call, although foundation officials indicated that there was no correlation between the two events. H&R Block did not contribute any money to Enroll America, according to the GAO report.
Sebelius sought nonfinancial assistance for Enroll America in phone calls to executives at three other entities — Ascension Health, Johnson & Johnson and Kaiser Permanente health plans and hospitals. Both Kaiser and Ascension made financial contributions to Enroll America, according to the GAO report, but not at the behest of Sebelius.
The report substantiates the HHS secretary's previous statements about her activities to support Enroll America. Earlier this month, Sebelius announced that she is resigning after more than five years in the Cabinet post.
Congressional Republicans have questioned the probity of Obama administration officials requesting assistance from entities that HHS regulates. The GAO report was requested by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the ranking minority member of the Senate Finance Committee, and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, among others.
“The self-proclaimed 'most transparent administration in history' has been anything but transparent in implementing the president's healthcare law,” Upton said in a statement responding to the GAO report. “Despite every resistance from administration officials, my colleagues and I have always asked the difficult questions and held the administration accountable for the laws many broken promises.”
No judgment from GAO
The GAO did not make a judgment on the propriety of the administration's solicitations. Sebelius sought guidance on the issue from the agency's lawyers before making the phone calls, according to the GAO report. They advised that seeking assistance for outside entities such as Enroll America was permissible.
“Public-private partnerships are used by HHS secretaries to pursue healthcare fraud initiatives, ensure that vaccines and antibiotics are widely available, advance biomedical research, fight cancer, heart disease and polio, and traumatic brain injuries,” HHS said in a statement. “The previous administration applauded the use of public-private partnerships to launch the Medicare prescription drug program and enroll children in the Children's Health Insurance Program.”
The report also found that no other Obama administration officials sought to raise money for Enroll America. However, an official with the RWJF did indicate that a top health policy adviser to President Barack Obama said in a 2012 discussion that Enroll America and other allied organizations would need $30 million for a national outreach campaign.
Paul Demko writes for Modern Healthcare, a sister publication of Business Insurance.