By Sam Baker and Elise Viebeck - 06/04/13 10:30 PM EDT
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Tuesday defended the fundraising calls she has made on behalf of an outside group — and said she could have done even more.
Sebelius acknowledged that she has made two fundraising calls on behalf of Enroll America, a nonprofit promoting enrollment in the healthcare law's new coverage options.
"I could legally solicit funds from anybody regulated by our office. I chose not to do that," Sebelius told lawmakers on the House Education and Workforce Committee.
Sebelius also acknowledged making three more general calls on Enroll America's behalf to entities that HHS does regulate: Kaiser Permanente, Johnson & Johnson and Ascension Health. She said she described the importance of enrollment in conversations with those groups but did not ask for donations.
Healthwatch has more on Sebelius's defense.
Hatch isn't buying it: Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who has been leading the charge against Sebelius's fundraising, said her comments Tuesday made the controversy worse.
“The message being sent by the Obama administration is get behind this private group run by a former White House staffer and we’ll give you more favorable treatment when it comes to regulations," Hatch said in a statement. "That’s bullying plain and simple and promotes a ‘pay to play’ environment that undermines the public trust in government.”
Enroll America is run by Anne Filipic, who previously worked in the White House and on the Obama campaign. The White House is widely believed to have engineered the leadership change in which Filipic took the reins of the organization.
Dems defend: For all the controversy surrounding Sebelius's fundraising, Democrats aren't backing down. A successful enrollment push is absolutely essential to the healthcare law's success, and many Democrats — after worrying the administration wouldn't do enough to sell the law — are glad to see Sebelius pressing aggressively to make sure the enrollment effort is well-funded.
"I hope the accusation turns out to be true," Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.) said during Tuesday's hearing with Sebelius.
RACs hit Senate bill: Contractors who cut hundreds of billions of dollars in bad Medicare payments are up in arms about a Senate bill they say would undermine their efforts. The measure from Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) would cap the number of document requests allowed during audits of Medicare providers. It is supported by hospitals, who argue that recovery audit contractors (RACs) can pose an enormous administrative burden. But the American Coalition for Healthcare Claims Integrity, a RAC group, said the legislation will "hamstring a highly effective auditing program" and shows Congress is "beholden to big industry instead of American taxpayers."
Abortion bill amended: A bill from Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) to ban late-term abortions in Washington, D.C., was expanded Tuesday by a House Judiciary subcommittee to apply to the whole country, prompting fury from abortion-rights activists. Franks has been a proponent of a late-term abortion ban for years based on the premise, which is disputed, that fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks of development. A D.C.-only bill failed to pass the House last year under suspension of the rules, which requires a two-thirds threshold for passage. Groups like Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights vowed to defeat the national bill, while the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion-rights group, said the measure was necessary to prevent "brutality and abuse" by abortion providers.
Fly-in alert: The nursing home sector was out in force on Capitol Hill Tuesday with 400 owners, certified nursing assistants and others visiting offices. The effort, led by the American Health Care Association (AHCA), sought to present the group's proposal on hospital readmissions as a pay-for in future fiscal negotiations, such a finding a permanent Medicare "doc fix." The plan would require skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) to reduce their hospital readmissions to the tune of $2 billion in Medicare savings between 2014 and 2022. Any unachieved savings would be rectified by cuts in the facilties' cost-of-living adjustments.
The Capitol Hill meetings capped the AHCA's annual Congressional Briefing, where attendees discussed Medicare's flawed physician payment formula and observation-stay policy.
Doubts on duals demo: Fourteen Democratic lawmakers from Los Angeles expressed concerns Tuesday that a new demonstration project for dual eligibles in the region will leave thousands of low-income patients in flux. In a letter to Medicare-Medicaid administrator Marilyn Tavenner, the members worried that new provider networks will not be adequate, that the timeframe for transition will move too quickly for beneficiaries, and that plans will pare down patient care to meet savings targets outlined by federal and state regulators.
"We do not believe enough information has been made available about how the savings rates were calculated and whether patients and providers in LA County can reasonably be expected to improve the quality of care for dual eligible beneficiaries under those rates," the lawmakers wrote. The letter was spearheaded by Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), and co-signers include Energy and Commerce ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.). Read the letter here.
The House Energy and Commerce Health subcommittee will hold a hearing on reforming Medicare's flawed physician payment formula, the sustainable growth rate, with a focus on care quality.
The House Ways and Means subcommittee on Social Security will hold a hearing to examine the status of the program and the looming onslaught of baby boomer beneficiaries.
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