GOP Senators Call for Formal Probe of Sebelius’ ACA Funding Requests
In a letter sent Thursday to HHS Inspector General Daniel Levinson, three Republican Senate leaders called for a formal probe into HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius' requests for private donations to a campaign focused on implementing and raising awareness about the Affordable Care Act, Modern Healthcare reports.
The HHS OIG investigation request comes two weeks after a group of House and Senate Republican leaders asked the Government Accountability Office to conduct a formal probe into Sebelius' solicitations (Zigmond, Modern Healthcare, 5/30). Republican leaders of several House committees have also written to Sebelius and more than a dozen insurers and organizations requesting details about their roles and contributions to the ACA outreach campaign.
Faced with lower-than-expected funding to implement the ACA, Sebelius since March has been soliciting donations from industry executives, community organizations and church groups for an ACA outreach campaign headed by Enroll America, a not-for-profit coalition. HHS last month confirmed Sebelius' donation requests.
An HHS spokesperson also said her actions are not illegal or improper because she has not made fundraising requests to groups regulated by the department (California Healthline, 5/28).
Details of Letter to Levinson
The letter to Levinson was sent by:
- Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee ranking member Lamar Alexander (Tenn.);
- Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee ranking member Tom Coburn (Okla.); and
- Senate Finance Committee ranking member Orrin Hatch (Utah) (Viebeck , "Healthwatch," The Hill, 5/30).
In the letter to Levinson, the three senators said Sebelius' donation requests "call into question whether appropriations and ethics laws are being following" (Viebeck , "Healthwatch," The Hill, 5/30). They noted that the Antideficiency Act prohibits Cabinet and active administration members from "entering into contracts or obligations or accepting voluntary services for the United States in excess of available appropriations."
In addition, an Office of Government Ethics rule bars federal officials from fundraising for an individual or group that they regulate, the lawmakers noted (Modern Healthcare, 5/30). "[T]he precise nature and appropriateness of Secretary Sebelius' activities is not clear from public records," they wrote, adding, "We believe a systemic, independent investigation of the matter is necessary to confirm the facts in the case."
The three senators asked Levinson to respond by June 14 to their request for the HHS OIG investigation (Ethridge, CQ HealthBeat, 5/30).
Federal Probe Requests Come Amid Broader GOP Scrutiny of Sebelius
According to "Healthwatch," Republicans have been suspicious of Sebelius after she was found to have violated a federal law relating to elections in 2012. HHS has since resolved the issue, "Healthwatch" reports (Viebeck , "Healthwatch," The Hill, 5/30).
GOP Lawmakers Call on Sebelius To Recuse Herself From IPAB
In related news, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) on Thursday sent a letter to Sebelius asking her to recuse herself from any involvement with the ACA's Independent Payment Advisory Board, in part because of the ongoing probes into her donation requests for the Enroll America campaign, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports.
IPAB is a 15-member panel of health care experts established under the ACA to make cost-cutting recommendations in Medicare annually if Medicare spending exceeds a target growth rate of 3.03%. Although scheduled to convene in 2014, the panel will not be required to make recommendations next year because the projected growth rate is 1.15%, according to CMS.
This month, the Congressional Research Service noted that Sebelius would be required to step in if Republicans do not make their nominations.In the letter to Sebelius, Cornyn and Roe wrote, "At a time of diminished trust in government, it is imperative that we make all efforts to eliminate any appearance of favoritism," adding, "In the event you or your office is required to engage in the IPAB process, would you recuse yourself to avoid creating the impression of a conflict of interest?" (Viebeck , "Healthwatch," The Hill, 5/30). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.