I wrote yesterday about the three major scandals in Washington. I overlooked the 4th—HHS Secretary Sebelius extorting money from insurance carriers to fund Obamacare when Congress didn’t.
posted at 2:01 pm on May 14, 2013 by Erika Johnsen
Lest we forget amidst the several other scandals currently blowing up in the Obama administration’s face (it is rather difficult to keep up), last Friday we learned that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has been hitting up health-care industry executives and groups, directly asking them to make donations to the non-profits that are working to enroll uninsured Americans and increase public awareness of ObamaCare’s benefits.
It is no secret that ObamaCare’s implementation is on the strugglebus, and Democrats see a lack of public awareness about the law as a pretty serious threat to their 2014 midterm prospects; hence why President Obama is putting more focus on the issue and Sebelius is trying to secure more — er — voluntary funding. The Washington Post described it as Sebelius approaching these execs “hat in hand,” but I would describe it more like approaching them with a gigantically threatening regulatory cudgel in hand. She is currently in charge of remaking the entire American health-care industry, remember? As Peter Suderman put it at Reason:
An “industry official who had knowledge of the calls but did not participate directly in them said there was a clear insinuation by the administration that the insurers should give financially to the nonprofits,” according to the Post. Something like this, perhaps? Hey, we’re short on money here. It would be nice if you could help with whatever you can, hint-hint, nudge-nudge.
Or maybe just: Hey, insurers. We just passed a law mandating that everyone in the country buy your product. So how about a million bucks? Or even a couple million? Over the weekend The New York Times reported that, according to an insurance industry executive, “some insurers had been asked for $1 million donations, and that ‘bigger companies have been asked for a lot more.’” That sounds rather like there was a direct solicitation.
The HHS Department maintains that they are not doing anything improper, but whether it is flat-out illegal or merely deeply unethical, it is definitely sketchy, and House Republicans got their probe on the matter going on Monday, via The Hill:
Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee, however, said the solicitations give a “clear appearance of a conflict of interest.” The committee questioned whether Sebelius is violating a federal law that says government employees may not raise money from entities they regulate.
“As the Secretary of HHS, ObamaCare gives you unprecedented power to regulate a significant share of the U.S. economy, from health plans to hospitals,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Sebelius.
Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee sent a separate letter to Sebelius, asking similar questions about her outreach to healthcare stakeholders on behalf of Enroll America.
“Currently, health insurers are seeking HHS approval to qualify for the health exchanges established by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act so that they may attempt to sell their services to the public when enrollment begins in a few months,” lawmakers wrote. “Your agency also has the power to review the insurance rates that providers wish to charge.”
Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), has asked the GAO to investigate Sebelius’ fundraising activities. “It could be bigger than Iran-Contra,” he’s said. In an interview with Sarah Kliff of the Washington Post, Lamar and Kliff had this interchange.
Sarah Kliff: You’ve been one of the first Republican senators to raise concerns about the secretary’s fundraising for Obamacare. What would you like to see happen next?
Lamar Alexander: I’d like for her to stop. One issue is if she’s raising money from the people she regulates. But I’m more concerned about her using private funding and private organizations to do what Congress has refused to do. I and other members of congress are going to ask GAO to look into the extent she’s coordinating with Enroll America or other organizations.
The reason I used the analogy to Iran-Contra scandal is this administration’s persistent thumbing of its nose at Article 1 of the Constitution because that made it very clear that the purpose of creating Congress is to curb executive power.
SK: I wanted to follow up on the Iran-Contra analogy. That seems like an awfully strong historical example to pick in this situation.
LA: This is arguably an even bigger issue because, in Iran-Contra, you had $30 million that was spent by Oliver North through private organizations for a purpose congress refused to authorize, in support of the rebels. Here, you’re wanting to spend millions more in support of private organizations to do something that Congress has refused.
As more and more information on the activities of the Obama administration is exposed, the “I” word has appeared.
“I would say yes — I’m not willing to take it off to take it off the table,” representative Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah) said about the possibility of seeking the president’s impeachment in the Benghazi scandal.
“Look, it’s not something I’m seeking, it’s not the endgame, it’s not what we’re playing for,” Chaffetz explained in an interview with CNN. “I was simply asked if that’s within the realm of possibilities.”
Earlier this week, Chaffetz told the Salt Lake Tribune that impeachment is “certainly a possibility,” which drew attention but added, “that’s not the goal.”
Boehner, finally getting his butt out of dead slow, asked, “Who’s going to jail over this scandal?”
I would hazard an answer of, “No one, at this point.” Clearly, some should—Sebelius, Lerner, the management of the Cincinnati IRS office that processed the Tax Exempt applications, Acting Commissioner of Internal Revenue Steven T. Miller and others. Hilliary Clinton, too, should be charged with Criminal Neglect for her actions and inactions during and after the Benghazi attack.
My cynical side believes Hilliary and Sebelius will be defended to the end by Congressional democrats. After all, Hilliary is their favorite, at the moment, for Prez in 2016.