Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) suggested Saturday that Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius may have broken the law by seeking donations from health industry officials to help promote the implementation of President Obama's signature health care law, comparing Sebelius’ actions to those in the Iran-Contra scandal.
"Secretary Sebelius’s fundraising for and coordinating with private entities helping to implement the new health care law may be illegal, should cease immediately and should be fully investigated by Congress," Alexander said in the statement. "Such private fundraising circumvents the constitutional requirement that only Congress may appropriate funds."
Over the past three months, 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. Both spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk openly about private discussions.
Many of Sebelius’s calls have gone to current supporters of Enroll America, the most prominent nonprofit group working on the health care law’s implementation, an HHS official said.
Alexander said the fundraising efforts could draw legal comparisons to the Iran-Contra affair of the mid-1980s, in which Ronald Reagan aide Oliver North diverted funds from arms sales to Iran to support Nicaraguan rebels, after Congress had cut off funding to the contra.
"If the Department of Health and Human Services closely coordinates with Enroll America and with other such entities, then the legal analogy with Iran-Contra is strong," Alexander said.
Other Republicans were similarly critical of Sebelius' efforts.
“To solicit funds from health-care executives to help pay for the implementation of the President’s $2.6 trillion health spending law is absurd,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said in a statement. "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.”
A spokesperson told the Post that Sebelius' requests to insurance companies are within the bounds of her authority as HHS secretary.