If HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was indeed calling healthcare executives to solicit donations, she didn't dial the leaders of some of the largest not-for-profit hospital systems or their national trade group. She didn't need to.
Republican lawmakers are gunning for Sebelius
over reports that she contacted health industry executives to raise funds for organizations campaigning on behalf of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's
Richard Umbdenstock, the American Hospital Association's president and CEO, said federal health officials did “not call us and didn't have to,” because the trade group has separately encouraged hospitals to support Enroll America, an organization created two years ago to promote the Affordable Care Act's coverage push. Umbdenstock is a member of Enroll America's board of directors. The board also includes Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, and Anthony Barrueta, Kaiser Permanente's senior vice president of government relations.
HHS has said that Sebelius acted legally to generate support for the rollout, and that she did not directly solicit money from industries she regulates, including hospitals and insurers. The House Energy and Commerce Committee, though, launched an inquiry into the department's communications involving the implementation of the healthcare law. The committee also sent letters to 11 major insurers seeking information about any contact from HHS.
The only health insurer aside from Kaiser represented on Enroll America's board is Blue Shield of California, a not-for-profit licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.
Umbdenstock said the law, passed in 2010, did little to address the mechanics of promoting and enrolling the uninsured in new subsidized insurance options available under the Affordable Care Act, so the trade group moved early to support Enroll America and similar groups.
Ascension Health Alliance, which includes the nation's largest not-for-profit health system, has asked its hospitals to educate local communities about options under the law, said Anthony Tersigni, its president and CEO.
Robert Henkel, president and CEO of Ascension's health system, said he had not been contacted by HHS and said he believed the health system has a role to play in marketing the new exchanges, which are an entirely new marketplace for insurance. “When you create a new market for anything,” it will require promotion, he said. For Ascension Health, more insured means revenue for previously uninsured patients and access to medical care for those who previously lacked it, which can benefit the community.
Robert Broermann, senior vice president and chief financial officer of Sentara Healthcare, likewise said he is unaware of any direct request from HHS officials for an investment to promote the Affordable Care Act's insurance expansion starting next year.
Sentara officials are now considering how best to promote the subsidized insurance options available to uninsured patients under the Affordable Care Act, he said, but it's too early to say what those efforts will look like, he said. Sentara already seeks out uninsured patients who may be eligible for safety net insurance or free care. Broermann said the system will also consider new promotion strategies. “It's going to be in our best interest to have some outreach activity.”Follow Melanie Evans on Twitter: @MHmevans