Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius' recent push to encourage health care executives and nonprofit organizations to make donations to organizations working to implement ObamaCare is drawing criticism from a key Senate Republican who questions whether she has a conflict of interest.
HHS spokesman Jason Young confirms that Sebelius in recent weeks has asked various charitable foundations, businesses executives, churches and doctors to make financial contributions to nonprofit organizations, such as Enroll America, that are helping to implement President Obama's health care overhaul.
Young said there is a special section within the Public Health Services Act that allows the HHS secretary to solicit financial support for nonprofit organizations conducting public health work. He said most of the solicitations have occurred through telephone calls, but in some speeches as well.
"For the last several months, the secretary has been working with a full range of stakeholders who share in the mission of getting Americans the help they need and deserve," Young said. "We have always worked with outside groups and the efforts now ramping up are just one more part of that work."
The fundraising pitches were first reported by the Washington Post. Young said Sebelius made no fundraising request of entities regulated by HSS, such as drug companies, hospitals or insurers.
Some lawmakers and advocacy groups have voiced concerns in recent weeks that many consumers will have a hard time navigating the health coverage options available to them next year as a mix of government programs and tax credits for private insurance kicks in.
The administration has recently announced it would be directing $200 million to states, private groups and local health centers so that they can hire workers who can help consumers pick the insurance plan best for them. The fundraising pitches appear to be another step along those lines. Beginning Oct. 1, people can start signing up for coverage through new state and federal health exchanges.
But Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said that soliciting money from health care executives is absurd.
"Moving forward, I will be seeking more information from the administration about these actions to help better understand whether there are conflicts of interest and if it violated federal law," Hatch said.
Hatch's criticism comes as House Republicans plan yet another vote to try to repeal ObamaCare.
In his remarks at a Mother's Day-themed event at the White House on Friday, Obama said his signature health care law "is here to stay."
"There's a lot that this law is already doing for Americans with insurance," the president said. "There's a lot more that's going to happen for folks who don't have insurance."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.