Sebelius Solicits Companies for Health Law Publicity Fund

President Barack Obama’s health secretary has called companies and other organizations, seeking financial contributions to help promote the 2010 health-care law that takes full effect next year.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has telephoned executives to discuss the Affordable Care Act and emphasize the importance of promoting it, said Jason Young, an HHS spokesman, who wouldn’t name the companies. Sebelius hasn’t directly solicited companies she regulates, such as insurers, hospitals or drugmakers, Young said by phone yesterday.

The White House has increased efforts to publicize the law as the Oct. 1 debut of health-insurance exchanges approaches. A recent poll showed 42 percent of Americans weren’t even sure the law was still in effect. Sebelius is using her authority to raise money for a independent nonprofit group called Enroll America that is promoting the health law.

“In general, what she says is that Enroll America and other groups like them are doing important work at an important time helping all of us get ready for open enrollment,” Young said in a telephone interview. “If it’s a regulated entity, we generally stop there. If it’s one of these other outside groups or people, then we ask them to please support good work.”

Enroll America is a coalition assembled in 2011 by Ron Pollack, the chief executive officer of Families USA, a consumer advocacy group based in Washington, to promote the health law and help people sign up for its programs. Its board includes executives from Kaiser Permanente, an Oakland, California-based nonprofit hospital and insurance company, drugmaker Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. and the chief executive officer of the American Hospital Association.

March Start

The calls to executives began about March 23 and are continuing, Young said. Sebelius’ activities were reported earlier by the Washington Post.

Organizations that have been asked for money include patient advocacy groups, individual health-care providers such as doctors and nurses, churches and “companies not regulated by HHS,” Young said. He didn’t name any of the groups.

Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the senior Republican on the Senate Finance Committee with jurisdiction over many HHS programs, said he would question Sebelius about her fundraising.

“Moving forward, I will be seeking information from the administration about these actions to help better understand whether there are conflicts of interest and if it violated federal law,” Hatch said in a statement.

Lawyers’ Advice

Young said he has confidence that Sebelius sought advice from department lawyers before beginning the fundraising.

Enroll America’s executive director, Anne Filipic, described the effort to promote the law as a partnership among government, for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations.

“We all have a lot of work to do between now and the marketplace opening in October,” Filipic said in an e-mail, using the Obama administration’s term for exchanges. “Secretary Sebelius recognizes how important the work Enroll America is doing and we’re thrilled to be working with her.”

Filipic is a former White House aide who was installed as Enroll America’s leader in January, to direct efforts to make sure uninsured people are aware of new coverage options under the health law.

The law is projected by 2017 to expand medical coverage to about 27 million people who currently lack it, primarily by offering subsidies to buy insurance and by expanding the joint state-federal Medicaid program for the poor.