Report: Obamacare outreach group gets $13 million at administration’s request

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A private foundation donated $13 million to a nonprofit to provide Obamacare outreach after the administration requested the funding, according to a General Accountability Office report.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius “contacted the chief executive officers of five organizations to solicit support for one outside entity, Enroll America,” said the GAO report Monday. Enroll America is a nonprofit that promotes the Affordable Care Act.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), a public health-focused nonprofit, gave two distinct grants to Enroll America, one for $3 million in April 2013 and a second for $10 million in May, according to the GAO report. The donations came after then-Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary Sebelius encouraged donations to Enroll America in a January 2013 phone call, but RWJF officials told the GAO the grants “were not made in response to the Secretary’s call.”

According to the report, Sebelius also sought funding for Enroll America from H&R Block and requested “nonfinancial support, such as technical assistance, from Ascension Health, Johnson & Johnson and Kaiser, which consists of the Kaiser Foundation Health Plans and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals.”

H&R Block officials told the GAO that though they considered making a donation prior to Sebelius’ request, they ultimately decided against it. But prior to the decision, HHS officials said that when H&R Block’s CEO discussed a potential donation with Sebelius, the secretary “suggest an amount higher than what H&R Block had said it was considering.”

On Enroll America’s part, the nonprofit’s representatives “asked the Secretary to request financial support from the three organizations” — meaning Ascension,  Johnson & Johnson and Kaiser — and that “in at least one case, Enroll America asked HHS to solicit specific levels of financial support.”

The Obama administration unsurprisingly maintains that the fundraising is legal and the GAO report did not issue any opinions on its legality. But the results raise questions about both the legality and propriety of HHS fundraising — the department directly regulates Kaiser, Ascension and Johnson & Johnson.

But the fundraising may have not been limited to HHS. The GAO spoke to a RWJF employee who reported speaking to a White House official, the deputy assistant to the president for health policy, in 2012, about Enroll America.

The official “indicated a hope that R.W.J.F. would provide a significant financial contribution to support Enroll America,” the report found. While not named, the White House’s Jeanne Lambrew holds that position. White House officials maintained that Lambrew “did not make a specific funding request on behalf of Enroll America.”

Enroll America,  was founded by former White House official Anne Filipic, but according to the GAO report, fundraising efforts may have reached to the White House itself as well.

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