Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander says Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius may be involved in an Iran-Contra-style health care scandal and he wants Congress to investigate it.
The Washington Post reported Friday that Sebelius is asking private companies involved in health care to contribute funds to Enroll America, a nonprofit that is working to help implement the Affordable Care Act by enrolling the uninsured and educating Americans on the new law. Congress has turned down requests from the Obama administration for additional funds to help implement the ACA.
Alexander, the ranking member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, called for an investigation into Sebelius’ actions Saturday, saying it “may be illegal, should cease immediately and should be fully investigated by Congress.”
“Such private fundraising circumvents the constitutional requirement that only Congress may appropriate funds. If the secretary or others in her department are closely coordinating the activities of Enroll America, which is headed by a former White House aide, then those actions may be in violation of the Anti-Deficiency Act,” he said.
He compared such behavior to the Iran-Contra scandal, “when Reagan administration official Oliver North raised funds and directed their spending through private entities in support of Nicaraguan rebels even though Congress had refused to appropriate such funds.”
A report from the Joint Select Committee charged with investigating the Iran-Contra incident determined that “Congress’s exclusive control over the expenditure of funds cannot legally be evaded through the use of gifts or donations to the executive branch,” Alexander noted.
HHS Spokesman Jason Young told The Daily Caller that Sebelius’ actions were entirely legal.
“Part of our mission is to help uninsured Americans take advantage of new affordable, high quality insurance options that are coming, thanks to the health law. 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. We have always worked with outside groups, and the efforts now ramping up are just one more part of that work,” he said.
“There is a special section in the Public Health Service Act that allows the Secretary to support and to encourage others to support non-profit organizations working to provide health information and conduct other public health activities — a provision that has applied to and has been used by previous Secretaries, around the launches of Medicare Part D and the Children’s Health Insurance Program for example,” he added.
Alexander also said that Sebelius’ actions possibly violated “federal laws prohibiting raising private funds from those she regulates.”
Young said that was not the case, saying: “The Secretary has made no fundraising requests to entities regulated by HHS.”