House Republicans who are critical of the federal health care law have written to more than a dozen companies, including top insurers Aetna and BlueCross BlueShield, to ask if President Obama’s top health official tried to solicit funds from them to support the overhaul.
The Committee on Energy and Commerce is looking into reports that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius called members of the health care industry to suggest they donate to Enroll America, a nonprofit that is promoting the Affordable Care Act.
Chairman Fred Upton, Michigan Republican, signed onto a request from House and Senate leaders that asked the Government Accountability Office to examine if her activities broke any laws, particularly as an end run around congressional appropriations.
Mrs. Sebelius recently told lawmakers on Capitol Hill they’ve significantly underfunded efforts to implement Mr. Obama’s health care law, or “Obamacare,” only to criticize the agency for its efforts ahead of key implementation dates.
But Republicans say the secretary’s actions, first reported by The Washington Post, may have gone too far.
Their letter to 15 top insurers and health care companies asks if Mrs. Sebelius or any HHS staff members contacted them seeking contributions. They also seek any materials that reflect the communications and want to know the outcome of any discussions.
The inquiry is one of several headaches for an Obama administration reeling from questions about the Justice Department’s secret subpoena of Associated Press phone records, the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups and the ongoing controversy surrounding last year’s terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya.
An HHS spokesman said this month that Mrs. Sebelius has not made any fundraising overtures to entities that are regulated by the agency.
He highlighted a section of the Public Health Service Act that addresses the secretary’s leeway in working with nonprofits.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican, has been particularly vocal in his criticism of Mrs. Sebelius, going so far as to compare her fundraising efforts to the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s, in which officials within the Reagan administration schemed to sell arms to Iran for the release of hostages and to fund rebels in Nicaragua.