HHS responds slowly to GOP demands for Obamacare documents

S.Borisov/Shutterstock.com

Congressional Republicans, as part of their continuing opposition to the 2010 Affordable Care Act, have been demanding internal documents from the Health and Human Services Department, which has been slowly but not fully complying, congressional sources say.

The department’s hiring of contractors to help set up the law’s state health insurance exchanges as well as the engagement of public relations firms to promote the law’s benefits have prompted demands for greater transparency by two House committee chairmen and the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee.

But HHS missed a Jan. 4 deadline for submitting documents on contractors engaged to help design the exchanges and to set up a “federal data services hub” to collect information on income and family characteristics to verify individuals’ submissions when they apply for coverage in the health insurance exchanges.

And documents relating to HHS-funded public relations campaigns, polling data and focus groups addressing the Affordable Care Act -- which Republicans had been requesting for months -- were finally subpoenaed in November by House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Charles Boustany Jr., R-La. But they are arriving only slowly.

“We are continuing to receive information in accordance with the subpoena issued in the 112th Congress,” a Ways and Means spokeswoman told Government Executive on Thursday. “HHS is making a production on a rolling basis.”

HHS’ failure to meet the deadline for the state exchange contractor documents was confirmed by a spokeswoman for Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and by a House Oversight staffer, who said the department has informed committee staff that they are preparing documents to reply. But there is no timeline.

HHS spokesmen did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

The law critics dubbed “Obamacare” has always been disputatious, beginning with its passage with no Republican votes, through the 2010 Republican takeover of the House, through the run-up to the Supreme Court’s June 2012 ruling largely upholding the law’s constitutionality, through the 2012 election campaign during which Republican candidates vowed to repeal it.

Hence it’s not surprising that HHS has been leery of discussing its strategy for implementation, and conservative commentators continue to decry the use of taxpayer funds to promote the law.

In April 2012, HHS awarded the public relations firm of Porter Novelli a $17.6 million contract to provide “technical professional services for strategic planning, development, execution, and assessment of a national, integrated multi-media education campaign that promotes the preventive health care benefits available to all Americans as a result of the Affordable Care Act.” That contract also targets “specific segments of the population,” so that same month HHS awarded a $1.4 million contract to a Los Angeles-based firm the Sensis Agency, to focus on outreach to Hispanics. And in June it awarded a $670,000 contract to the Alexandria, Va.-based Campbell & Co. to target the African American population.

In October 2012, HHS signed a $3.1 million contract with the public relations firm Weber Shandwick to, by April 2013, "promote early awareness and foster engagement with consumers to help them learn more about coverage that they may be eligible for,” according to PR Week.

Separately from HHS, a donation-supported private nonprofit called Enroll America, created by Ron Pollack, founding executive director of the health care advocacy group Families USA, has launched a campaign to promote acceptance of the law among individuals and businesses.

In issuing his subpoena last November, Camp complained about HHS’ “costly contracts to drive Internet traffic to pro-ObamaCare websites and produce television commercials promoting the administration’s positions. Government officials have also discussed using taxpayer funds to push prime-time television shows to add dialogue touting the health care law.” The Obama administration, he said, “has repeatedly stonewalled Congress and refused to allow a public review of how these tax dollars were spent. The lack of response leads me to believe that this administration is either unwilling to disclose why they are using taxpayer dollars to market their unpopular law or are unable to keep track of how those taxpayer dollars are being spent.”

Boustany added, “HHS serves as the administration’s mouthpiece spending millions of dollars to convince the American public this law is viable. HHS continues to present a misleading case that is inherently one-sided.”

Hatch and Issa, in their Dec. 20 letter to Sebelius, expressed concern about protection of citizens’ privacy. “Since the contractors chosen by HHS to administer the federal exchanges, the partnership exchanges and the associated federal data services hub will have access to tremendous amounts of sensitive and valuable information,” they wrote, “we want to ensure that HHS selects and expends funds on contractors in the best interest of federal taxpayers and health insurance consumers.”

A third front in the Republican attack on the health care law is being waged on the question of how to interpret the law’s ambiguous language on whether the tax credits for health insurance purchasers are legally available in states where the federal government has stepped in to set up an exchange because the state opted not to. Conservatives argue no, the Treasury Department argues yes. Issa on Wednesday said, "Transparency and accountability in the administration's implementation of the president's health care law will remain a major focus of the committee's efforts in the 113th Congress.”

(Image via S.Borisov/Shutterstock.com)

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.