A top Republican senator is comparing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ ongoing effort to implement the Affordable Care Act in partnership with the health care industry and nonprofit organizations to the Iran-Contra scandal, during which officials secretly sold arms to Iran to fund a resistance movement in Nicaragua.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) made the comments on Saturday, after the Washington Post reported that Sebelius is asking industry groups and other community organizations to support efforts encouraging people to enroll in the new health care exchanges established under the health care law.
Alexander said Sebelius’ actions should “cease immediately and should be fully investigated by Congress.” He cited a report by the Iran-Contra Congressional Joint Select Committee, which says “Congress’s exclusive control over the expenditure of funds cannot legally be evaded through the use of gifts or donations to the executive branch.” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) agreed, telling the Post, “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.”
Administration officials insist, however, that Sebelius was following authority laid out in the Public Health Service Act and “has made no fundraising requests to entities regulated by HHS.” “For the last several months the Secretary has been working with a full range of stakeholders who share in the mission of getting Americans the help they need and deserve,” Jason Young, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, told ThinkProgress.
He explained that Sebelius is operating under a special section of the Public Health Service Act that allows the secretary to “support by grant or contract (and to encourage others to support) private nonprofit entities working in health information and health promotion, preventive health services, and education in the appropriate use of health care.”
Indeed, officials from Republican administrations appear to have relied on similar authority to promote health initiatives, suggesting that the GOP’s attacks may be motivated by politics rather than preventing wrongdoing.
Shortly after President George W. Bush’s Medicare Part D reforms went into effect in January of 2006, Mark McClellan, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), told the House Ways and Means Committee that the Bush administration “began reaching out to develop partnerships” with industry and community groups since 2004, “held training sessions around the country to education our partners” and ran “print, radio and television advertisements” to “raise awareness and assist beneficiaries and their care givers in making decisions about prescription drugs.”