By David Morgan

WASHINGTON, May 11 (Reuters) - U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is asking companies for financial donations to help implement President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul, months before it is due to take effect.

In telephone calls that began around March 23, officials say, Obama's top healthcare adviser has been seeking assistance from companies in the healthcare field and other industries as well as from healthcare providers, patient advocacy groups, churches and other charitable organizations.

"The secretary has been working with a full range of stakeholders ... We have always worked with outside groups, and the efforts now ramping up are just one more part of that work," said Jason Young, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services.

HHS declined to identify the targeted donors but said none of the companies are regulated by department agencies.

The administration's aim is to win financial help for nonprofit groups, including Washington-based Enroll America, which are mounting a private-sector effort to persuade millions of uninsured Americans to obtain health coverage in 2014 through new online marketplaces, known as exchanges, slated to begin enrollment for federally subsidized private insurance on Oct. 1.

With Republicans in Congress unwilling to consider allocating new money to finance government outreach efforts, the White House and HHS have appealed to private sources, including the insurance industry, to help with an implementation effort that could lead to higher costs and jeopardize a cornerstone of Obama's presidential legacy if it were to fail.

Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, blasted Sebelius' action as "absurd."

"Moving forward, I will be seeking information from the administration about these actions to help better understand whether there are conflicts of interest and if it violated federal law," he said in a statement.

HHS said the secretary began phoning companies after getting advice from department lawyers. "There is a special section in the Public Health Service Act that allows the secretary to support and to encourage others to support non-profit organizations working to provide health information and conduct other public health activities," Young told Reuters in an email.


Sebelius' fund-raising activities were originally reported by the Washington Post.

Organizations like Enroll America are expected to play a key role in public outreach efforts set to begin this summer.

A nonpartisan group dedicated to extending health coverage to nearly 49 million uninsured people, Enroll America's board includes representatives from Teva Pharmaceuticals, the Kaiser Permanente health system and the American Hospital Association, a Washington trade group.

Enroll America President Anne Filipic said cooperation between the public, private and nonprofit sectors is vital to making sure the marketplaces are ready on time. "Secretary Sebelius recognizes the importance of the work Enroll America is doing and we're thrilled to be working with her," she said.

Obama defended his Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on Friday at a White House event intended to kick off the administration's promotional campaign with a focus on the law's benefits for women.

The president said he was "110 percent committed" to the law's success and warned listeners not to be "bamboozled" by misinformation.

"This is too important for political games," Obama said. "Regular access to a doctor or medicine or preventive care - that's not some earned privilege, it is a right."

The law is expected to provide health coverage to 38 million people by the end of the decade through the new marketplaces and an expansion of the Medicaid healthcare program for the poor. Some 7 million people are expected to gain coverage through the marketplaces alone in 2014, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Republicans have turned up the volume on their opposition to the law. The House of Representatives is to vote next week on a Republican measure to repeal the law. Like three-dozen previous House votes to repeal or defund healthcare reform, the measure is expected to go nowhere in the Democratic-led Senate.

HHS officials say the department has put together $1.26 billion to finance Affordable Care Act implementation between now and Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. That includes an outreach campaign that has already cost $240 million, as well as funding for the establishment of 17 state insurance exchanges, and 33 others that HHS will operate in states that are either not ready or unwilling to run their own.

The exchanges are scheduled to begin operating on Jan. 1, 2014, when the healthcare law comes into full force. (Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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  • 1912

    Former President Theodore Roosevelt champions national health insurance as he unsuccessfully tries to ride his progressive Bull Moose Party back to the White House. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

  • 1935

    President Franklin D. Roosevelt favors creating national health insurance amid the Great Depression but decides to push for Social Security first. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

  • 1942

    Roosevelt establishes wage and price controls during World War II. Businesses can't attract workers with higher pay so they compete through added benefits, including health insurance, which grows into a workplace perk. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

  • 1945

    President Harry Truman calls on Congress to create a national insurance program for those who pay voluntary fees. The American Medical Association denounces the idea as "socialized medicine" and it goes nowhere. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

  • 1960

    John F. Kennedy makes health care a major campaign issue but as president can't get a plan for the elderly through Congress. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

  • 1965

    President Lyndon B. Johnson's legendary arm-twisting and a Congress dominated by his fellow Democrats lead to creation of two landmark government health programs: Medicare for the elderly and Medicaid for the poor. (AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 1974

    President Richard Nixon wants to require employers to cover their workers and create federal subsidies to help everyone else buy private insurance. The Watergate scandal intervenes. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

  • 1976

    President Jimmy Carter pushes a mandatory national health plan, but economic recession helps push it aside. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

  • 1986

    President Ronald Reagan signs COBRA, a requirement that employers let former workers stay on the company health plan for 18 months after leaving a job, with workers bearing the cost. (MIKE SARGENT/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 1988

    Congress expands Medicare by adding a prescription drug benefit and catastrophic care coverage. It doesn't last long. Barraged by protests from older Americans upset about paying a tax to finance the additional coverage, Congress repeals the law the next year. (TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 1993

    President Bill Clinton puts first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in charge of developing what becomes a 1,300-page plan for universal coverage. It requires businesses to cover their workers and mandates that everyone have health insurance. The plan meets Republican opposition, divides Democrats and comes under a firestorm of lobbying from businesses and the health care industry. It dies in the Senate. (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 1997

    Clinton signs bipartisan legislation creating a state-federal program to provide coverage for millions of children in families of modest means whose incomes are too high to qualify for Medicaid. (JAMAL A. WILSON/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 2003

    President George W. Bush persuades Congress to add prescription drug coverage to Medicare in a major expansion of the program for older people. (STEPHEN JAFFE/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 2008

    Hillary Rodham Clinton promotes a sweeping health care plan in her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. She loses to Obama, who has a less comprehensive plan. (PAUL RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 2009

    President Barack Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress spend an intense year ironing out legislation to require most companies to cover their workers; mandate that everyone have coverage or pay a fine; require insurance companies to accept all comers, regardless of any pre-existing conditions; and assist people who can't afford insurance. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

  • 2010

    With no Republican support, Congress passes the measure, designed to extend health care coverage to more than 30 million uninsured people. Republican opponents scorned the law as "Obamacare." (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

  • 2012

    On a campaign tour in the Midwest, Obama himself embraces the term "Obamacare" and says the law shows "I do care." (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)