| WASHINGTON, June 27
WASHINGTON, June 27 A U.S. government watchdog
will scrutinize Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen
Sebelius's efforts to raise private donations for a nonprofit
group planning to help enroll uninsured people in health
coverage under Obamacare, Republican congressional aides said on
The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO)
agreed to audit actions Sebelius took earlier this year
including two fund-raising phone calls -- one on April 29 to tax
adviser H&R Block and another on Jan. 29 to the nonprofit Robert
Wood Johnson Foundation, according to Republican aides in the
Senate and the House of Representatives, who spoke on condition
of anonymity. The audit comes at the request of Republican
GAO notified members of Congress verbally about its plans,
the aides said.
No formal notice has been sent to Congress, according to a
GAO spokeswoman, who declined further comment.
It was not clear whether the agency would look at separate
efforts by Sebelius to rally other support for Enroll America
from private organizations including healthcare companies.
"We have not received notice of an audit. However, we work
with GAO on a regular basis and we would be happy to cooperate
with them should we receive a request," said an official with
Sebelius's Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Leading Republicans from oversight committees in both
chambers asked GAO to look into the issue on May 16, saying
Sebelius's actions calls may have violated federal law and
ethics rules, an allegation that HHS vehemently denies.
"They (GAO) are going to gather the facts about who HHS
contacted, what was asked, and how close the relationship is
with Enroll America," said an aide to Senator Lamar Alexander,
top Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and
Enroll America, which has close ties to the White House,
launched a state-level private-sector grassroots effort last
week to raise public awareness about subsidized health coverage
and other benefits that will become available Jan. 1 under
President Barack Obama's healthcare reform law.
The campaign will coincide with a broad range of similar
public outreach efforts by federal and state agencies, consumer
advocacy groups, media outlets, healthcare providers and private
companies including insurers.
Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is
supposed to provide subsidized private insurance through new
online healthcare exchanges in all 50 states and an expansion of
the Medicaid program for the poor in about half the country.
Enrollment is slated to run from Oct. 1 to March 31, 2014.
The outreach efforts should reach full pitch in the fall
with messages intended to help consumers sign up for coverage.
Sebelius told a House panel on June 4 that her fundraising
actions were fully authorized under the Public Health Service
Act, which gives the executive branch scope to promote public
healthcare issues in partnership with the private sector.
The secretary disclosed that she also phoned three
healthcare companies -- Johnson & Johnson, Kaiser
Permanente and Ascension Health -- and talked about
the importance of Enroll America but did not ask for money.
Kaiser Permanente and Ascension Health, both established
Enroll America supporters, have since made new donations,
according to the group.
"Johnson and Johnson has not contributed to Enroll America,
but we are eager to work with them," Enroll America President
Anne Filipic, a former Obama White House aide, said in a
Republicans, who want to repeal Obamacare, have blocked new
congressional funding for implementation earlier this year.
Critics say they are now trying to scare off donors to Enroll
America in hopes of undermining implementation at the outset of
the 2014 midterm election campaign in which Republicans hope to
capture control of the Senate.