In a report to Congress, the Government Accountability Office did not offer a legal opinion on the actions of former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who solicited assistance for Enroll America from companies that the agency regulates, according to The New York Times
The GAO report instead provided details about how the White House raised money to promote health insurance enrollment through Enroll America
, a nonprofit tasked with "maximizing the number of Americans who are enrolled in and retain health coverage."
The report said Sebelius contacted chief executive officers from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, H & R Block, Ascension Health, Johnson & Johnson, and Kaiser, according to the Times. Sebelius asked the first two for financial assistance and the remaining three for nonfinancial support, such as "technical assistance."
Health and Human Services regulates Johnson & Johnson, Kaiser, and Ascension.
The Obama administration – which has said outside financial help was necessary because Congress provided "much less money than requested to publicize the law" – maintains that Sebelius’ actions were legal.
Investigators were told by Health and Human Services officials that no other federal employees solicited money for Enroll America, but the GAO report indicates that Jeanne M. Lambrew, Obama’s deputy assistant for health policy, had a conversation in 2012 with a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation employee during which she "indicated a hope that R.W.J.F. would provide a significant financial contribution to support" Enroll America, the Times reported.
The Princeton, N.J.-based organization was founded by the late Robert Wood Johnson II, who built Johnson & Johnson.
Many Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, suggested last year that Sebelius was pressuring companies her agency regulates. He characterized her actions as "arguably an even bigger issue" than the Iran-Contra Affair, The Washington Post
reported last year.
Sebelius has denied pressuring anyone.
"If they felt pressure, they misunderstood," she said in 2013, according to the Post. "I can’t answer what they felt. I can tell you that … I have made fundraising solicitations to two groups, and I did not discuss funding with the other three entities. I did discuss Enroll America."
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation contributed $13 million to Enroll America, according to the Times, but denied the money was in response to Sebelius’ solicitation.
A spokesman for Alexander told the Times the senator hopes Sebelius’ replacement – former Office of Management and Budget director Sylvia Mathews Burwell – "will not ask the entities she regulates to support the president’s allies."
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