Were Obamacare Regulations Delayed Because of the 2012 Election?

Dec 16, 2013

Photographer: Scott Eisen/Bloomberg.

The Washington Post ran a story over the weekend accusing the Obama administration of delaying many costly regulations to prevent “them from becoming points of contention before the 2012 election.”

An Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS) report, cited by the Post, points some of the blame for delays at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), whose duties include reviewing regulations issued by federal agencies:

Several of the senior agency employees indicated that OIRA reviews took longer in 2011 and 2012 because of concerns about the agencies issuing costly or controversial rules prior to the November 2012 election. The employees said their agencies were instructed that such rules were not to be issued unless deemed absolutely necessary (e.g., a judicial deadline) or if it could be shown they were not controversial (e.g., clear net benefits).

The report also states that an “employee said that political sensitivities about rulemaking reached new heights during 2012.”

However, OIRA wasn’t the only agency whose was regulatory timeline was influenced by Election Day. The Washington Post reports that rules establishing “essential health benefits,” those benefits health plans in the small group and individual markets must cover under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), were delayed by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) also for political reasons. 

As Free Enterprise reported last December, proposed essential health benefits were signed by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner on August 1, 2012, more than three months before Election Day, but only approved by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on November 14, 2012 and published in the Federal Register on November 26, 2012.

Not mentioned in the Post story is a proposed health care law regulation with a more suspicious timeline. Proposed insurance market rules were signed by Marilyn Tavenner on May 15, 2012--nearly six month before Election Day--approved by Sebelius on August 6, 2012 but only published in the Federal Register on November 26, 2012.

In the case of both proposed regulations, even though HHS was sitting on these proposed rules for months, the administration thought it was reasonable for the public to have only until December 31, 2012, to digest and comment on them. That's less than President Obama's own Executive Order that calls for a regulatory comment period of at least 60 days.

This behavior put politics before regulatory openness and shortchanged the public from having adequate time to comment one of the most critical and complex laws of our time.

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