HHS Puts the Holiday Rush on New Health Care Rules

Dec 11, 2012

Photograph: Missvain on Wikimedia Commons licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The holiday season is upon us.  Whether you’re dashing around trying to find a Christmas tree or menorah, preparing for Kwanzaa or the Winter Solstice, or doing some last minute shopping, chances are you didn’t realize the future of your health care would be affected by the holiday rush.

At the end of November, federal agencies released a barrage of highly anticipated rules dealing with some of the most important provisions of the health care law.  Three of the proposed rules on essential health benefits, insurance market reforms, and the transitional reinsurance program, only have 30-day comment periods. 

On December 7, 2012, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent out three letters to Secretary Sebelius raising concern over this “unusual” timeline for review and urging the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to extend the comment period for these three proposed rules.

As explained in a U.S. Chamber press release yesterday,

While these three regulations all have extremely short comment periods, especially in light of their length and complexity, the dates when the regulations were signed, approved, released, and published raise specific questions about the abnormal process the administration has been using throughout the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

A close reading of the proposed rules on the Standards Relating to Essential Health Benefits and Health Insurance Market Rules reveals that HHS withheld them until after the election, even though they were both signed three months before the election

In addition to delays seemingly correlated with the election and the height of the presidential campaign, the date of the start of the comment period for the proposed rule dealing with the reinsurance program raised additional questions over shortcuts in the regulatory process.  As the Chamber’s letter illustrates,

A close reading of the NPRM also reveals that instead of the comment period starting from the date of publication in the Federal Register as is standard, comments are due for this proposed rule 30 days after the date of filing for public inspection at the Office of the Federal Register…starting the comment period clock from the date of filing for public inspection shortens the comment period by an entire week by requiring comments to be submitted by December 31, 2012.

Regardless of whether political reasons influenced these delays, HHS has clearly shown (given the three months that it took the Secretary to approve the regulations) that the necessary timeline for review is much longer than 30 days.  The consequence of rushing critical regulations and not allowing for constructive comments will harm the business community working to implement health care reform, as well as the nation at large.  Health care reform should be given more precedence than just adding to the holiday stress for businesses hoping to improve the flawed legislation.   

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