Healthcare Business News

GOP lawmakers air subpoena threat over details on reform PR push

By Jessica Zigmond
Posted: October 24, 2012 - 5:00 pm ET

House Republican leaders have threatened to subpoena information from HHS if the department does not respond to a request about the Obama administration's use of taxpayer dollars to promote the healthcare reform law through public relations campaigns and advertisements.

In a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (PDF), House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.), a physician who serves as chairman of the panel's oversight subcommittee, wrote that HHS has spent “millions of taxpayer dollars to promote the administration's policies.” The lawmakers also said reports suggest the administration used public funds to push the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on prime-time television shows. HHS learned of the committee's concerns about using public monies for this purpose as far back as May, when Boustany sent a letter requesting information on the use of taxpayer money in contracts for public relations, advertisements, polling and message testing.

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“In the more than 20 weeks that have passed since the original request, the department has repeatedly made representations that the production of responsive documents was imminent,” Camp and Boustany wrote. “In numerous e-mails, department officials said that the department's response was 'close,' or would be produced 'next week' or 'any day now,' ” they continued. “The department's failure to provide a single responsive document to the committee's reasonable requests leaves only two possibilities: Either the department is unable to keep track of the work products it buys with taxpayer dollars, or the department is trying to delay any response until after this year's election.”

An HHS official said in an e-mail that the department is reviewing the letter.

Last month, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), sent a letter to Sebelius that struck a similar note. In it, the Republican lawmakers asked for more information on how the states have spent federal funding for health insurance exchanges. That correspondence cited a news report that said Peter Lee, executive director of California's health insurance exchange, was eager to see 10 major network television programs promote “that health insurance thing.”

Boustany and Camp have given HHS until Halloween to provide the information they've requested, or else they will “consider issuing a subpoena” to make HHS comply.

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