Author Topic: Exclusive: HHS official found White House 'disarray' months before health law rollout  (Read 237 times)

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Offline happyg

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By Susan Crabtree

A senior Health and Human Services official was so frustrated last May over the White House's “disarray” on health care before the launch of Obamacare insurance exchanges that he warned of needing a “come to Jesus meeting” with his counterparts.

The comment from Anton Gunn, then-HHS director of external affairs, came in an email exchange with Anne Filipic, the president of the outside group Enroll America, a nonprofit with close ties to the White House that was formed to promote the fall Obamacare rollout and boost enrollment — an effort the two were working on closely.
While criticism of the botched healthcare rollout has focused on Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and her department's failures, the email exchange dated May 1 between Gunn and Filipic reveals that HHS officials harbored deep frustrations about the White House's own health care messaging and preparations in the middle of 2013, months before the troubled rollout. (See the email in the embedded viewer below this story.)

The Washington Examiner obtained the email exchange, along with 257 other pages of documents in late January, through a Freedom of Information Act request submitted in June 2013.

Most of the emails also reveal a close working relationship between Sebelius, HHS aides, Enroll America and White House staffers on fundraising efforts to promote Obamacare enrollment.

News last May that Sebelius had asked business executives and nonprofit groups to donate to Enroll America provoked an uproar among Republicans on Capitol Hill. Watchdog groups allege her soliciting private donations to help outside groups boost Obamacare enrollment may be an unethical shakedown.

Several Republican senators who have looked into the propriety of Sebelius' fundraising to promote Obamacare say she attended a White House meeting with President Obama, other HHS and private foundations on May 1, 2013.

According to the GOP senators, the private sector’s work with Enroll America was discussed at that meeting.

The meeting, though, is not specified on Obama's official schedule for the day. The schedule lists a 10:30 a.m. meeting with senior advisers on that date. Sebelius' public schedule for May 1 also does not mention a White House meeting.

The email exchange between Gunn and Filipic makes reference to conversations “at the White House.”

Filipic in an email on May 1 said she had a meeting “at Pew” that same day and reported that “folks were clearly energized by what they heard at the White House.”

That remark is an apparent reference to the Pew Charitable Trusts, a large nonprofit. The foundation did not respond to questions about whether its officials visited the White House or what discussions took place with administration officials.

She also wrote Gunn thanking him for attending one of the meetings and for “fighting hard for us along the way.”

“I thought today went well but should not be so painful to get to that point,” she wrote. “Thanks for everything.”

Gunn responded, saying it was his pleasure to help and that he wished he could do more and is glad “we are making progress.”

He then took several shots apparently at the White House's health care messaging and engagement team.

“I think we need to have a Come to Jesus meeting with our friend over there,” he wrote. “I think they are in disarray. I don't know who's in charge on health care.”

“We haven't even been introduced to Paulette yet. Tara is coming over tomorrow but I think her focus is solely on Comms when we need someone focused on what you need,” he continued.

The email does not reference last names for either woman. However, Paulette Aniskoff and Tara McGuiness are two senior White House aides.

Aniskoff is deputy assistant to the president and director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. She came to the White House the late fall of 2012 after serving as the director of individual and community preparedness at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

McGuiness is a senior communications adviser who handles health care issues for the president. Her Twitter handle is @HealthCareTara and her page describes her role as “all health care all the time.”

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