GAO digs into HHS fundraising efforts

Last spring, news broke regarding outgoing U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius' role in raising money for Enroll America, a nonprofit that promotes healthcare reform. Sebelius claimed she did not ask for donations, but rather encouraged companies to support the nonprofit's work.

Now new details surrounding this alleged campaign have surfaced. Sebelius contacted the CEOs of five organizations to solicit support for Enroll America, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

Republicans said these fundraising tactics were meant as a way to dodge the spending limits imposed by Congress, reports the New York Times. However, under federal law, the HHS secretary can encourage support for such nonprofits.

At the time, Republicans claimed Sebelius' actions sent the wrong message to insurers. "Companies and organizations should never be pressured for money because it sends the message that contributions are necessary to secure favorable regulatory decisions--creating a 'pay to play' environment--or to avoid regulatory reprisals," Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee said in a letter to Sebelius, FierceHealthPayer previously reported.

To better connect the dots, GAO reviewed answers they had asked HHS about solicitations in March 2010, interviewed HHS officials and Sebelius' congressional testimony, and questioned representatives from the five organizations HHS reported contacting for donations.

Until now, only Sebelius was known to have raised money for Enroll America. HHS told GAO investigators it was unaware of any employees outside the federal agency who may have solicited funds on behalf of Enroll America, reports the Times.

But in the GAO report, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation employee told investigators that in 2012, a White House official "indicated a hope that RWJF would provide a significant financial contribution to support" Enroll America's efforts.

What's more, the report finds Sebelius sought guidance on soliciting support prior to reaching out to these five contacts. HHS reported that Sebelius interacted with a broad range of stakeholders to discuss healthcare law-related issues and Enroll America's involvement.

For more:
- here's the Government Accountability Office report (.pdf)
- read the New York Times article