Arne Duncan dodges questions, calls Education Department’s participation in Obamacare ‘minimal’

Font Size:

After a number of GOP lawmakers expressed concern about the Education Department’s involvement in the implementation of Obamacare, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that the department’s participation is “minimal.”

Duncan’s response, however, left many of the lawmaker’s questions unanswered.

In July, a group of Republican senators led by South Dakota Sen. John Thune sent a letter to Duncan requesting a slew of information on the Department of Education’s involvement with Obamacare.

“While we understand that the effects of the President’s health care law will be felt by parents, teachers, and their families, we are unfamiliar with how the Department of Education’s involvement in implementation will further the mission of educating our nation’s students,” they wrote, requesting specifics on cost and scope of the effort.

In a letter to Thune, Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, and the additional 18 signatories — including Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, the ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee — Duncan offered a partial response to the senators’ concerns.

“Recognizing the intersection of wellness and student achievement, the Department is coordinating with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to share information with our stakeholders about the ACA. This is consistent with the Department’s longstanding practice of sharing helpful health information from the Federal government with its stakeholders,” Duncan wrote.

He noted that the department participates with HHS to assist in the first lady’s Let’s Move! campaign and it has disseminated information about illnesses and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Duncan added that he believes Obamacare will “will help to improve educational outcomes for our nation’s students.”

According to Duncan the department has been offering “basic materials developed by HHS for our stakeholders to use at their discretion” and that the department has not devoted a lot of resources to the task.

“HHS does not provide funds to the Department for these efforts. The Department has devoted a very minimal amount of staff time and resources for these efforts and thus expenses related to these efforts are a very minimal part of the salaries and expenses section of the budget,” he wrote.

Duncan added that no Department employees work solely on the effort, and that the department is assisting in getting the information out in a “more efficient and cost-effective manner” by using its resources.

Thune spokeswoman AshLee Strong noted to The Daily Caller that Duncan failed to answer some key issues raised in the senators’ July missive — most notably, what authority does the department have to carry out such promotion, which actions the department is asking schools to take and the specific costs of the activities.

“While Senator Thune appreciates the Department of Education’s response to his July 16th letter, it’s disappointing that the agency failed to answer several important questions included in the letter. We will continue to seek answers to these outstanding questions,” Strong wrote in an email, noting that they would also like to know how many daily hours department staffers are devoting to Obamacare promotion.

Alexander spokesman Jim Jeffries similarly pointed out that the letter lacked important detail.

“This letter is unresponsive to the senators’ inquiry, which sought to peel back the layers of secrecy surrounding Obamacare promotion, and to get information for taxpayers on exactly how their tax dollars are being used by the Education Department to promote an unpopular health care law,” Jeffries added in an emailed statement to TheDC.

Follow Caroline on Twitter