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POLITICS: PennAve

HHS: Kathleen Sebelius has stopped fundraising to promote Obamacare

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Politics,White House,Obamacare,Health Care,PennAve,Susan Crabtree,Kathleen Sebelius,HHS,Enroll America

Read the Washington Examiner's series on the Obama administration's fundraising efforts to promote Obamacare enrollment.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has stopped fundraising for an outside group working to promote Obamacare, a department spokeswoman told the Washington Examiner.

“Secretary Sebelius is not currently engaging in fundraising for Enroll America,” HHS spokeswoman Erin Shields said in an emailed statement.

Enroll America is an outside nonprofit with close White House and Obama campaign ties formed to boost enrollment in the Affordable Care Act's insurance exchanges.

The spokeswoman did not respond to Examiner questions about when Sebelius stopped fundraising or why she made that decision.

Two weeks ago, another HHS spokeswoman declined to say whether Sebelius and other department staff were continuing to solicit private funds to help boost enrollment figures after the troubled fall rollout of the online federal insurance exchanges.

The Examiner has posted a series of stories about Sebelius' fundraising based on emails received in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

Sebelius has argued that her fundraising activity has been legal and proper and that she did not target groups her department regulates. But press reports about her efforts to raise private money reportedly caused potential donors to grow skittish. Several groups declined to eventually contribute after initially considering her requests.

Last summer, the New York Times reported that H&R Block, one of the private entities Sebelius admits to soliciting, had pledged $500,000 to Enroll America but a company spokesman says that H&R Block ultimately decided against making the donation.

As the largest tax preparation service in the country, H&R Block stands to reap a windfall in new business by determining whether clients qualify for Obamacare subsidies.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a nonprofit that supports anti-obesity efforts and other health outreach campaigns, last year said it had contributed $14 million to Enroll America. It owns more than $1 billion worth of stock in Johnson & Johnson, which HHS regulates. The Food and Drug Administration, which is part of HHS, regulates Johnson & Johnson's pharmaceutical and medical device businesses.

Sebelius has admitted to calling three other companies HHS regulates but said she asked them only for support and didn't request a donation: Johnson & Johnson, Kaiser Permanente, the largest managed care organization in the country, and Ascension Health, a large Catholic nonprofit that operates a network of health facilities.

Kaiser Permanente, which gave an unspecified sum, was one of several private entities that donated a combined $27 million to Enroll America.

The group’s officials have said other donors include the Ford Foundation, the California Endowment, the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, Saint Luke's Health Initiatives, the Tennessee Hospital Association and Catholic Health Initiatives.

The HHS statement that Sebelius had stopped fundraising came in response to a number of the Examiner's questions about emails showing close coordination between senior department aides, White House staffers and Enroll America. The emails raised questions about how much the White House knew about Sebelius' efforts to raise private money to carry out the president's health care law.

HHS has repeatedly side-stepped questions about the emails while defending the fundraising. Spokeswomen have cited a provision in the Public Health Service Act, which they said allows HHS to work with public and private partners to “advance public health.”

They also have argued that similar private-public partnerships occurred under President George W. Bush when Republicans worked to expand the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit.

News that Sebelius solicited private donations to help launch the fall rollout of the Obamcare exchanges caused an uproar among Republicans on Capitol Hill.

GOP lawmakers charged that Sebelius is trying to circumvent Congress after they denied additional funding to promote the Affordable Care Act.

Republican critics argue the fundraising amounts to a violation of the Anti-Deficiency Act, which prohibits government agencies from accepting voluntary services or donations.

Two House committees have been looking into the matter. Republicans in Congress also have asked the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, and the HHS inspector general to probe the extent to which Sebelius and her staff are coordinating with Enroll America and other organizations.

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Author:

Susan Crabtree

White House Correspondent
The Washington Examiner