With major Affordable Care Act (ACA) statutory deadlines fast approaching, congressional oversight committees continue to scrutinize both the Administration's efforts to implement key provisions of the legislation, as well as the ACA's potential impact on individuals, employers and providers. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and other federal health care officials have faced harsh questioning recently about the new federal insurance exchange enrollment set to begin in October. In April, Secretary Sebelius appeared before five different congressional committees and faced criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike about the Administration's plans to roll out the exchanges and educate consumers. Republicans in the House and Senate are especially reinvigorated by a media report coming at the end of last week that Secretary Sebelius solicited industry stakeholders to provide financial support for ACA implementation efforts.
Last Friday, the Washington Post reported that, "Over the past three months, [Secretary] Sebelius has made multiple phone calls to health industry executives, community organizations and church groups and asked that they contribute whatever they can to nonprofit groups that are working to enroll uninsured Americans and increase awareness of the law, according to an HHS official and an industry person familiar with the secretary's activities." Soon after the article's publication, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT) issued separate statements strongly criticizing Secretary Sebelius' alleged actions and questioning the legality of such fundraising activities. On Monday, HHS spokesman Jason Young stated that Secretary Sebelius has the statutory authority to "support and to encourage others to support non-profit organizations working to provide health information and conduct other public health activities," under the Public Health Service Act of 1944.
Nevertheless, House and Senate Republicans have already initiated inquiries, with Senator Hatch recently stating that, "Moving forward, I will be seeking more information from the administration about these actions to help better understand whether there are conflicts of interest and if it violated federal law." On Monday, Republican leaders of the House Energy & Commerce and Ways & Means Committees launched separate investigations into the matter. Energy & Commerce Committee leaders sent a letter to Secretary Sebelius, requesting that HHS provide by May 27, 2013, a list of individuals, companies, and organizations that have received the fundraising pitch, a list of HHS employees that participated, a summary of the communications and information relayed, and detailed information on the funding sources and amount spent/allocated to implement the law. Committee leaders also sent letters to multiple health insurance companies that "may have been contacted by HHS," requesting that they provide a summary of the communications, as well as documents discussing those communications or plans to contribute to ACA implementation In a similar letter to Secretary Sebelius, Ways & Means Committee Republicans expressed concerns that her "fundraising from groups that may apply to receive federal grants as 'navigators' and 'non-navigator assistors' creates the appearance that giving money to meet ObamaCare's funding needs will result in more favorable consideration of a grant application."