U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius denied on Tuesday that she asked companies regulated by her department for donations to a private nonprofit group helping to implement President Barack Obama's healthcare reform law.
“I have made two calls involving funding, to Robert Wood Johnson [Foundation] and H&R Block, neither of whom are under the regulatory authority of our office,” she said in testimony before a House of Representatives oversight committee.
Sebelius said she did make phone calls on behalf of the group Enroll America to healthcare companies Johnson & Johnson, Ascension Health and Kaiser Permanente, all of which the department regulates, but she did not ask them for financial donations.
She also said she never discussed her actions with the White House but made the calls at the request of Enroll America, a group that represents a range of healthcare businesses and interest groups working to help educate the public about the benefits of the law, officially known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Sebelius also told lawmakers her actions were sanctioned by long-standing federal healthcare law and in line with steps taken by previous health secretaries to promote the rollouts of government programs, including Medicare drug benefits.
Her comments follow accusations by House and Senate Republicans that she may have violated federal law and ethics rules by seeking funds from regulated entities.
Lawmakers have launched an investigation in the House and requested probes from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office and the inspector general of the Health and Human Services Department.