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Health Secretary Goes Begging to Insurance Companies

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Posted on May 10, 2013
WHO U.S. Mission/Eric Bridiers

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

This is incredibly sad, outrageous or corrupt, depending on where you sit, but it is being reported that Kathleen Sebelius has been asking health insurers to help fund the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

As secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, it’s Sebelius’ job to midwife the new health care law into being, but the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the former Kansas governor will need five to 10 times more money than Congress allocated to get the job done. Lawmakers have so far refused to spend more on Obamacare’s implementation, the states aren’t helping much and HHS has already diverted funds from elsewhere in its budget.

Conflicts of interest abound. How is the secretary supposed to regulate insurers if she depends on them for funding? Even if the money isn’t going to HHS, but the nonprofits helping to launch Obamacare, is she allowed to ask in the first place? According to The Washington Post, there are strict circumstances under which Cabinet secretaries can, as private citizens, fundraise for causes they champion. However it’s difficult to imagine such solicitations, if true (the Post report is based on an anonymous source), don’t cross some ethical boundary.

The Washington Post:

Sebelius must walk a tightrope in asking for money. Federal regulations do not allow department officials to fundraise in their professional capacity. They do, however, allow cabinet members to solicit donations as private citizens “if you do not solicit funds from a subordinate or from someone who has or seeks business with the Department, and you do not use your official title,” according to Justice department regulations.

“It sounds like the people she’s going to are people that are being regulated by her agency, I think that is definitely problematic,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director for the Campaign Legal Center. “That’s not a statement about the value of the law, but it’s a statement about using the power of government to compel giving or insinuate that giving is going to be looked at favorably by the government.”

The Health and Human Services official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the secretary’s private discussions, described her work as well within the bounds of her authority.

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—Posted by Peter Z. Scheer.

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