Former Health and Human Services Administrator Kathleen Sebelius testified Tuesday in Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez’s federal corruption trial, saying she felt at one point he wanted her to “take some action.”
Prosecutors allege Menendez used his political power to lobby Sebelius and others on behalf of a Florida eye doctor who overcharged Medicaid by nearly $9 million, reports Politico. In exchange for Menendez’s efforts to save the doctor from “punishment,” prosecutors charge the doctor lavished him with massive political donations and extravagant trips.
The trial focused Tuesday on whether Menendez did take a bribe from the doctor, Solomon Melgen, who is a co-defendant in the trial, or whether Menendez was legitimately using his position as senior senator from New Jersey to work out a policy issue regarding Medicaid billing. Sebelius answered questions Tuesday about a meeting she had with Menendez and then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in August 2012 that struck her as notable at the time.
“I think it’s the only time I was asked to discuss a practice involving a billing issue before Medicare and Medicaid Services,” Sebelius testified. “That is not something I was personally involved in on a basis like this.”
Sebelius recalled that, during the meeting, she felt Menendez wanted her to do something, but that she wasn’t quite sure what it was he wanted from her.
“I think he wanted me to do something differently than my staff had previously done, which was take some action to clarify this procedure, or change the action that had been taken on the billing practice,” she said.
“What I knew in this instance was that Dr. Melgen had been found to be overbilling, that the decision had been appealed in the department ranks and that it was again upheld,” she added. “And at the time I took the meeting, the appeal was to an outside body, the Medicare Advisory Committee, the MAC, independent of HHS, which is why I was advised it was OK for me to go to the meeting.”
The Department of Justice claims that Reid personally asked the Obama administration to help Melgen in November 2011.
The senator asked Reid in November 2011 to pressure the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services to drop its ruling against Dr. Solomon Melgen, wherein the agency claimed the eye doctor over-billed Medicaid for $8.9 million.
Reid called a former Obama aide to reportedly try to apply pressure on the administration to intervene in the case, but the aide refused to get involved in the matter after he realized the case involved a single doctor and a federal agency.
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