The ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Saturday said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius may be violating federal law in her fundraising efforts to help implement the 2010 healthcare overhaul.
Recently Sebelius has asked businesses and charitable organizations to donate money to organizations that are helping to implement the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but an HHS spokesman said in an e-mail the department has not solicited funds from entities that HHS regulates, such as hospitals, insurers and pharmaceutical companies. In a statement Saturday, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said Sebelius's fundraising for private entities to help implement the law should stop immediately. He also said those efforts may be illegal and should be the subject of a congressional investigation.
“Such private fundraising circumvents the constitutional requirement that only Congress may appropriate funds,” Alexander said in his statement
. “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, referring to a federal law that prohibits federal departments from making greater expenditures in a fiscal year than Congress has provided.
The Tennessee Republican drew parallels between the Secretary's efforts and the Iran-Contra affair of the 1980s. "The limits of the Anti-Deficiency Act were fully explored by Congress during the Iran-Contra incident 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," the statement said.
Alexander added that Sebelius's fundraising activities may also violate federal laws that prohibit raising private funds “from those she regulates.”
Jason Young, a spokesman for HHS, said in an e-mail Saturday that the department has always worked with outside groups who share HHS' goal of educating Americans about the law's insurance options, and the recent expanded efforts are part of that ongoing work.
"The Secretary has made no fundraising requests to entities regulated by HHS," Young said in the email. "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," he added.Follow Jessica Zigmond on Twitter: @MHjzigmond