Sebelius's coffee with Ezra Klein

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius personally met with a handful of reporters in the run-up to the ObamaCare launch, according to records obtained by The Hill.

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According to Sebelius’s draft schedules, obtained by The Hill under the Freedom of Information Act, Sebelius had coffee with The Washington Post’s former WonkBlog reporter Ezra Klein on August 2, about two months before the disastrous Oct. 1 launch of HealthCare.gov.

Klein is a well-known policy reporter who is now leaving the Post to start his own media venture.

Sebelius’s outreach to the media also included joining a group of administration officials during a meeting with Thomas Friedman, The New York Times columnist.

“You will join the closing session of the day-long program put together to introduce Tom Friedman to various health care costs issues,” said a note to Sebelius on the April 23 meeting.

Less than a month later, The New York Times ran a Friedman column about how the number of healthcare information start-ups was evidence ObamaCare “already appears to be surprising on the upside.” Friedman says in the piece that HHS connected him with the companies he profiled.

The more than 750 pages of draft schedules obtained by The Hill run from late October 2012 to just past the Oct. 1, 2013 launch date of the healthcare exchanges. The records do not take into account last-minute changes, so it's possible that some of the meetings listed never took place.

Sebelius has campaigned to build public support for ObamaCare through frequent media appearances, and has also talked to reporters behind the scenes about the law.

Her most frequent media contact was Atul Gawande, who writes about healthcare for The New Yorker. She spoke with Gawande by phone three times, according to her draft schedules.

The bulk of Sebelius’s contact with the media was in the form of interviews that were later made public.

She met with Cosmopolitan Magazine, Glamour Magazine, Women’s Health, Time, Family Circle, Univision, and a panel at CNN over that time, according to her schedules. She also had interviews scheduled with NPR’s Fresh Air and met with the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board.

“As has been widely reported, in the months leading up to open enrollment, Secretary Sebelius met with a broad range of individuals and stakeholders to help get the word out about enrollment, and to spotlight our education and outreach efforts,” said HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters. 

“In recent months, the Secretary has engaged in a sustained, aggressive outreach campaign to reach as many Americans as possible during open enrollment. We’re working closely with a range of partners across the country to reach the uninsured, and help get them enrolled in quality, affordable health insurance.”

One Democratic strategist said the media outreach is typical for a Cabinet secretary in charge of a massive program like ObamaCare.

“Reaching out and engaging opinion leaders to help to spread the message of the Affordable Care Act and to boost coverage is smart,” said Doug Thornell, a Democratic strategist at SKDKnickerbocker. “It would be surprising if they weren't engaging in a full-court public awareness campaign in support of the healthcare law.”