U.S. Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said she talked with health-care companies she regulates, including Johnson & Johnson (JNJ:US), about helping a nonprofit group publicize the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
Ascension Health, a Catholic health care system, and the nonprofit hospital and insurance company Kaiser Permanente were also urged to lend support, though no financial contributions were requested, Sebelius told lawmakers at a hearing today in Washington. All three companies are subject to oversight by Sebelius’s agency, the Health and Human Services Department.
J&J, the world’s biggest maker of health-care products, falls most under her thumb as the Food and Drug Administration section is responsible for approving the New Brunswick, New Jersey based company’s medicines and devices.
“I have promoted and discussed outreach activities not only around the partnership with Enroll America but dozens of organizations for a very long time,” Sebelius said in response to questions from Republican members of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
HHS had previously acknowledged that Sebelius phoned two organizations her agency doesn’t regulate, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and H&R Block Inc. (HRB:US) to ask for financial contributions to the nonprofit, Enroll America. Congressional Republicans are exploring whether it’s appropriate for the health secretary to solicit companies she oversees.
The efforts to help Enroll America don’t differ from work by health secretaries under former President George W. Bush to promote the 2003 law that created a drug benefit in Medicare, Sebelius said. Sebelius said she has the authority under a 1976 law to solicit help from companies, including those her department regulates, for the promotion of public health programs including the Affordable Care Act.
“This is not a statutory line,” she said. “This is a chosen line that I made.”
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