Report: Sebelius Wooed Liberal Media to Push Obamacare

Thursday, 13 Feb 2014 11:22 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius personally courted liberal journalists in the months before October's Obamacare launch, according to federal records — and she met with or attended events with President Obama at least 18 times in the year leading up to the October 2013 launch.

Sebelius' draft schedules, obtained by The Hill through a Freedom of Information Act demand, showed Sebelius was making the rounds to speak with journalists from The Washington Post, The New York Times and other publications.

Sebelius' meetings included coffee with former Washington Post WonkBlog reporter Ezra Klein on Aug. 2, about two months before the Obamacare rollout on Oct. 1, and with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in April.

Less than a month after her meeting with Friedman, he wrote a column for the Times about how healthcare information startups showed how Obamacare "already appears to be surprising on the upside."

Sebelius met most with Atul Gawande, a healthcare writer for The New Yorker. She spoke with Gawande three times, according to the draft schedules.

The HHS secretary also met with Cosmopolitan and Glamour magazines, Women's Health, Time, Family Circle, Univision, and a panel at CNN in the months before Obamacare launched. Sebelius also had interviews scheduled through NPR's "Fresh Air" program and met with the the editorial board of The Chicago Tribune.

In addition to meeting with the press, Sebelius was a frequent guest at the White House while Obamacare was in the midst of its disastrous rollout. The more than 750 pages of documents obtained by The Hill concerning Sebelius' activities show she met with or attended events with Obama at least 18 times between October 2012 and October 2013. Sebelius' schedules show that at least seven of those dates were scheduled specifically to discuss the Affordable Care Act.

In addition to Obama, she met with some of his closest staff and advisers, including Pete Rouse, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, and Valerie Jarrett.

The aggressive campaign is typical for a Cabinet secretary in charge of a program such as Obamacare, pointed out one Democratic strategist.

"Reaching out and engaging opinion leaders to help to spread the message of the Affordable Care Act and to boost coverage is smart," said Doug Thornell, a Democratic strategist at SKDKnickerbocker. "It would be surprising if they weren't engaging in a full-court public awareness campaign in support of the healthcare law."

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