- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2014

Outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius lobbied several private companies to support Obamacare while the program was having difficulty getting people to sign up, a new investigative report found, showing the lengths to which the administration has gone in support of the president’s signature health care law.

Mrs. Sebelius personally spoke with the leaders of five major health care and financial firms to get them to support Enroll America — a nonprofit organization trying to get uninsured Americans to sign up for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), according to records reviewed by the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ watchdog arm.

The outreach effort had been known previously, but the GAO report was the most detailed to date on the administration’s efforts to enlist support in the health law’s uncertain early days.

“The Secretary of HHS contacted the Chief Executive Officers of five organizations to solicit support for one outside entity, Enroll America, involved in activities related to PPACA,” the GAO said in a report released Monday.

Investigators said Mrs. Sebelius contacted leaders at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and H&R Block, hoping to secure financial support for the nonprofit group, as well as calling the heads of medical giants Ascension Health, Johnson & Johnson and the Kaiser foundations for non-financial help and advice.

“The self-proclaimed ‘most transparent administration in history’ has been anything but transparent in implementing the president’s health care law,” said Rep. Fred Upton, Michigan Republican and one of the five lawmakers who requested the GAO investigate the matter.

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The administration has continuously tried “to keep the public in the dark” on how it operates, Mr. Upton said.

The calls were made between January and April 2013, as Republicans and Democrats battled over the legislation and the administration tried to secure the estimated 7 million enrollees needed to keep Obamacare stable.

The solicitation was legal, according to federal regulations, investigators said, as “HHS officials may encourage members of the public to support certain organizations assisting Americans to enroll in coverage under PPACA.”

However, GAO also noted that HHS is in charge of regulating several of the health companies, something that could create an image problem of possible behind-the-scenes agreements between the businesses and federal officials, though investigators said there is no evidence of such deals taking place.

The other four Republicans requesting the investigation were Sens. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee; and Reps. Dave Camp of Michigan and Jack Kingston of Georgia.

The White House told the GAO it had no comments on the report, and HHS only provided technical details.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a private philanthropic group, estimated Enroll America would need $30 million to launch a major advertising campaign to attract enrollees. The foundation eventually made $13.1 million in donations to the nonprofit group, but denied the grants were in response to the secretary’s call.

Meanwhile, H&R Block never made a donation, and Ascension Health and the Kaiser foundations said they had already made donations to Enroll America before Mrs. Sebelius called.

Johnson & Johnson told the GAO that the secretary called to discuss implementing PPACA, and that donations were never discussed.

• Phillip Swarts can be reached at pswarts@washingtontimes.com.

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