HHS Secretary Discloses Calling Johnson & Johnson, Ascension Health, and Kaiser Permanente in Addition to Previously Reported H&R Block and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
WASHINGTON, DC – In the midst of an ongoing congressional investigation, and nearly one month after reports first surfaced she had solicited two groups on behalf of Enroll America, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius today disclosed that she had, in fact, reached out to three additional health care organizations. During an appearance before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, the HHS Secretary admitted that she had also contacted Johnson & Johnson, Ascension Health, and Kaiser Permanente on behalf of Enroll America, the non profit group working to implement the health care law.
The Obama administration has been slow to fully acknowledge the extent of Sebelius’ solicitations. According to a May 12, 2013, report by The New York Times, “Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of Health and Human Services, has solicited sizable donations from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and H&R Block, the tax preparation service, as part of a multimillion-dollar campaign to ensure the success of President Obama’s health care law, administration officials said Sunday … After first denying that administration officials had engaged in fund-raising, the department confirmed Friday that Ms. Sebelius had made calls soliciting support from the health care industry, including insurance and pharmaceutical executives.”
Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy (R-PA) commented, “The recent revelations made by Secretary Sebelius raise significant red flags about how she and others at HHS have been working on behalf of Enroll America. First, the administration denied that HHS was engaged in fundraising, then they fessed up to Sebelius’ fundraising pitch to H&R Block and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and now we learn of three more health care groups that were contacted. It is troubling that the HHS Secretary is making pitches on behalf of Enroll America to the very same industry groups the agency regulates. We will continue following the facts where they lead.”
On May 13, the Energy and Commerce Committee launched an investigation into Sebelius’ possible fundraising from the health care industry the agency regulates to help implement the health law. Committee leaders recently expanded their examination, seeking information from HHS, Enroll America, and over a dozen other companies and organizations. The head of Enroll America, Ann Filipic, spent years working in the Obama White House, and left her post as Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement in January 2013 to become president of Enroll America. Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) is also part of a joint House and Senate request to the Government Accountability Office to determine if Sebelius’ solicitations violated any laws.
U.S. Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said she talked with health-care companies she regulates, including Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), about helping a nonprofit group publicize the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
Ascension Health, a Catholic health care system, and the nonprofit hospital and insurance company Kaiser Permanente were also urged to lend support, though no financial contributions were requested, Sebelius told lawmakers at a hearing today in Washington. All three companies are subject to oversight by Sebelius’s agency, the Health and Human Services Department.
J&J, the world’s biggest maker of health-care products, falls most under her thumb as the Food and Drug Administration section is responsible for approving the New Brunswick, New Jersey based company’s medicines and devices.
“I have promoted and discussed outreach activities not only around the partnership with Enroll America but dozens of organizations for a very long time,” Sebelius said in response to questions from Republican members of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
HHS had previously acknowledged that Sebelius phoned two organizations her agency doesn’t regulate, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and H&R Block Inc. (HRB) to ask for financial contributions to the nonprofit, Enroll America. Congressional Republicans are exploring whether it’s appropriate for the health secretary to solicit companies she oversees.
The efforts to help Enroll America don’t differ from work by health secretaries under former President George W. Bush to promote the 2003 law that created a drug benefit in Medicare, Sebelius said. Sebelius said she has the authority under a 1976 law to solicit help from companies, including those her department regulates, for the promotion of public health programs including the Affordable Care Act.
“This is not a statutory line,” she said. “This is a chosen line that I made.”
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