By Elise Viebeck - 05/24/13 04:40 PM EDT
House Republicans have widened their probe of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius by asking the country's largest health insurers for information on her fundraising for a nonprofit group promoting ObamaCare.
Leaders on the Energy and Commerce Committee said Friday they have written to 15 insurance companies and other groups asking whether Sebelius had contacted them to solicit funds for ObamaCare's implementation.
Companies should hand over any internal communications that document conversations with Sebelius or discussions about her request, including emails, lawmakers wrote.
Republicans have denounced the effort as a "shakedown" that will line the pockets of Obama supporters and former administration officials now working to promote the Affordable Care Act.
The White House and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have defended Sebelius's actions as legal and consistent with efforts to support Medicare Part D during the George W. Bush administration.
On Friday, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) suggested a conflict of interest when he wrote that "HHS regulation of the health insurance industry will only grow under [healthcare reform], including by approving health insurers to participate in the exchanges."
Upton is also part of a push for government investigators to probe the legality of Sebelius's actions.
He and other Republicans wrote to Aetna, Blue Shield of California, Cigna, Coventry Health Care, H&R Block, HCSC Group, Highmark, Humana, Independence Blue Cross, Kaiser Permanente, United Healthcare, WellPoint, America's Health Insurance Plans, BlueCross BlueShield Association, and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield.
Twelve of the groups must respond by Monday, the lawmakers wrote, adding that the other three groups must respond by June 11.
--This report was updated at 1:49 p.m.