Topics: Obamacare

Complaint suggests HUD may have inappropriately promoted Obamacare

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Obamacare,Housing and Urban Development,Health Care,Ashe Schow,Cause of Action,HHS

A government watchdog group wants an investigation into whether the Department of Housing and Urban Development improperly using funds appropriated by Congress to promote Obamacare.

In letters sent Monday to the inspectors general of HUD and the Department of Health and Human Services, Cause of Action said “HUD had improperly expended congressional appropriations to implement a program for which HUD has no statutory authority.”

The allegations were based on documents obtained by the group in a Freedom of Information Act request for information similar to that detailed in an August 2013 report from the Washington Examiner. The documents included a PowerPoint presentation detailing HUD's involvement in the implementation and promotion of Obamacare.

The presentation was sent on behalf of Lopa Kolluri, HUD’s former deputy chief of staff for operations and strategy, who claimed that “[HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan] is committed to engaging as intensively as we can on this initiative.”

The presentation outlined a rollout plan for Obamacare, beginning with “outreach to uninsured individuals, specifically the ‘young and healthy’ ” and providing “high level messaging/education on health insurance literacy and the value of insurance.” The presentation suggested using “social media, online communication [and] cell phones” to reach the uninsured.

HUD employees were tasked to “provide information and encourage participation in training (as appropriate)” to public housing directors, housing counselors and many others involved in HUD’s regular activities. Information about Obamacare was to be posted on program websites such as the “Public Housing portal” and the “Homelessness Resource Exchange.”

HUD employees were also asked to “encourage industry groups and other stakeholders to contact/inform their members” and to “provide information at conferences/public events.”

For high levels of engagement, HUD employees were encouraged to enroll in Certified Application Assistance training so that they could “provide in-person enrollment assistance” when Obamacare exchanges opened Oct. 1.

Further, HUD employees were told to “incorporate outreach and possibly enrollment into ongoing activities with residents,” including public housing resident income certification, Section 811 program activities and even HUD’s Father’s Day activities.

“The presentation shows that HUD employees expended considerable time and effort to work on a project outside the agency’s appropriation,” Cause of Action said in its letter to HUD’s inspector general, David Montoya.

Cause of Action also alleges that HUD may have violated prohibitions against using appropriated funds “for publicity or propaganda purposes not authorized by the Congress,” as listed in the third edition of “Principles of Federal Appropriations Law,” volume one. None of the suggested Obamacare promotion is specifically mentioned in HUD’s appropriations.

In its letter to HHS Inspector General Daniel Levinson, Cause of Action alleged the agency may have “improperly augmented its appropriation by inducing or accepting HUD’s improper use of appropriations.”

“[I]f HHS was an active participant in the creation of materials or strategies the White House distributed to other agencies, including HUD, then HHS was complicit in the appropriation violations committed by those other agencies,” Cause of Action said.

The group's complaint also suggested that if HHS “directed, facilitated or tacitly accepted the time HUD employees inappropriately directed toward HHS’s health care program, then HHS violated the Antideficiency Act.”

The Antideficiency Act prohibits federal agencies from, among other things, “accepting voluntary services for the United States, or employing personal services not authorized by law, except in cases of emergency involving the safety of human life or the protection of property.”

“[Obamacare] implementation is clearly a high priority for the Obama administration,” Cause of Action said. “However, political priorities do not authorize agencies or the White House to violate appropriations law by taking agencies off of their congressionally mandated tasks.”

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