GOP probing Sebelius’s fundraising push: “Clear appearance of a conflict of interest”
posted at 2:01 pm on May 14, 2013 by Erika Johnsen
Lest we forget amidst the several other scandals currently blowing up in the Obama administration’s face (it is rather difficult to keep up), last Friday we learned that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has been hitting up health-care industry executives and groups, directly asking them to make donations to the non-profits that are working to enroll uninsured Americans and increase public awareness of ObamaCare’s benefits.
It is no secret that ObamaCare’s implementation is on the strugglebus, and Democrats see a lack of public awareness about the law as a pretty serious threat to their 2014 midterm prospects; hence why President Obama is putting more focus on the issue and Sebelius is trying to secure more — er — voluntary funding. The Washington Post described it as Sebelius approaching these execs “hat in hand,” but I would describe it more like approaching them with a gigantically threatening regulatory cudgel in hand. She is currently in charge of remaking the entire American health-care industry, remember? As Peter Suderman put it at Reason:
An “industry official who had knowledge of the calls but did not participate directly in them said there was a clear insinuation by the administration that the insurers should give financially to the nonprofits,” according to the Post. Something like this, perhaps? Hey, we’re short on money here. It would be nice if you could help with whatever you can, hint-hint, nudge-nudge.
Or maybe just: Hey, insurers. We just passed a law mandating that everyone in the country buy your product. So how about a million bucks? Or even a couple million? Over the weekend The New York Times reported that, according to an insurance industry executive, “some insurers had been asked for $1 million donations, and that ‘bigger companies have been asked for a lot more.’” That sounds rather like there was a direct solicitation.
The HHS Department maintains that they are not doing anything improper, but whether it is flat-out illegal or merely deeply unethical, it is definitely sketchy, and House Republicans got their probe on the matter going on Monday, via The Hill:
Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee, however, said the solicitations give a “clear appearance of a conflict of interest.” The committee questioned whether Sebelius is violating a federal law that says government employees may not raise money from entities they regulate.
“As the Secretary of HHS, ObamaCare gives you unprecedented power to regulate a significant share of the U.S. economy, from health plans to hospitals,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Sebelius.
Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee sent a separate letter to Sebelius, asking similar questions about her outreach to healthcare stakeholders on behalf of Enroll America.
“Currently, health insurers are seeking HHS approval to qualify for the health exchanges established by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act so that they may attempt to sell their services to the public when enrollment begins in a few months,” lawmakers wrote. “Your agency also has the power to review the insurance rates that providers wish to charge.”
And Sen. Lamar Alexander is getting ready to ask the GAO to mount an investigation into Sebelius’s fundraising activities, seeing as how she is circumventing the will of Congress with an external effort to acquire more funds for the administration’s goals, and all:
There is a law against what they’re doing and the GAO has also said an agency may not augment appropriations from outside sources. This isn’t a complicated thing. If the administration asks for $5 and Congress appropriates $4, that’s what they get. If the government creates a subterfuge by going outside the government, to raise money through a private entity, that’s a violation of the law. …
I and other members of Congress will send a letter this week to GAO asking them to investigate if Sebelius is coordinating with these outside groups to do what congress has refused to do. I and others, I’ve sent a letter to Sec. Sebelius asking her a series of questions. I would hope the inspector general [at HHS] would become interested. I hope the Secretary will rethink what she’s doing and stay within the authorization of appropriations, not try to make an end run.