Sebelius Limited Fundraising For Health Law to Two Calls

The U.S. health secretary’s solicitation of money from companies to promote the Affordable Care Act ended after two phone calls, to H&R Block Inc. and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, according to her spokesman.

Enroll America, a nonprofit promoting the 2010 health law had asked Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to help raise money from a longer list of companies. Sebelius solicited two for money, and only asked the others for technical advice and nonfinancial support because they were regulated by her department, said Jason Young a spokesman for the agency.

Sebelius’s activities are under investigation by House Republicans, who unanimously opposed passage of the Affordable Care Act and have tried at least 37 times to repeal all or part of the law. Sebelius has had to be creative in implementing the law as Congress repeatedly rejects her requests for more money and some Republican governors refuse to cooperate.

“She has encouraged the sharing of strategic insights, technical expertise, marketing know-how and community-based experiences to help nonprofits like Enroll America in effectively reaching and working with uninsured Americans,” Young said by telephone. He added in an e-mail that Sebelius has made “no fundraising requests to entities regulated by HHS.”

Young said in his e-mail that Sebelius has “engaged in a dialogue” with 18 categories of individuals and organizations since January about how they can “join the public-private effort to help uninsured Americans take advantage” of the health law. The only companies he named were tax preparation business H&R Block and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

$14 Million

H&R Block, the biggest U.S. tax-preparation firm, declined to discuss in detail any connection to Enroll America. The Kansas City, Missouri-based company has been trying to make a business of advising clients on how to best comply with the health law, which requires most Americans to carry medical insurance or pay a tax penalty starting in 2014.

“Since the Affordable Care Act became law, we have been working on behalf of our clients to understand what the law means for them,” Gene King, a company spokesman, said in a May 14 e-mail. “We have not made any decision to join any specific advocacy or other health-care organization nor reached agreement on any amount we would contribute to any specific group.”

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a $9 billion philanthropy devoted to public health, has contributed $14 million to Enroll America since 2010, Christine Clayton, a spokeswoman for the Princeton, New Jersey-based nonprofit, said in a May 14 e-mail.

Consumer Options

Ron Pollack, the executive director of the consumer advocacy group Families USA, began organizing Enroll America in 2010 as a coalition of health insurers, drug companies and other organizations to help people take advantage of the health law’s programs. The board includes people from Kaiser Permanente, the Oakland, California-based nonprofit insurer and hospital chain, and Israeli drugmaker Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.

“Enroll America is focused on making sure the millions of families, young adults, and other consumers who will be eligible to enroll in a health care plan starting this fall have the information they need to evaluate their options and make the decision that is right for their budget and situation,” President Anne Filipic said in an e-mail. “We’re working with a broad range of organizations --- including consumer advocates, companies, and other stakeholders.”

Beginning Oct. 1, new health-insurance marketplaces will open in every state to sell coverage to people who don’t get it at work, often with government subsidies to reduce the cost. The health law will also expand some state Medicaid programs, which cover people living in or near poverty.

HHS Mission

The organizations Sebelius has talked with include health insurers, drug companies, pharmacies, hospitals, media companies, telecommunications firms, restaurants and the entertainment industry, Young said.

“Part of our mission is to help uninsured Americans take advantage of new quality, affordable insurance options that are coming, thanks to the health law,” Young said in an e-mail.

Sebelius’s department maintains that her solicitations, both for money and nonfinancial help, are authorized under a federal law, the Public Health Service Act. Past health secretaries have used their authority under the law to seek private-sector support for initiatives including the addition of a prescription drug benefit to Medicare in 2003 and the creation of the Children’s Health Insurance Program in the late 1990s, Young said.

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