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U.S. Chamber Urges HHS to Extend Comment Period for Health Care Rules

Sunday, December 9, 2012 - 7:00pm

Submits Three Letters Raising Concerns About Unusual Shortcuts in the Proper Regulatory Process

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. Chamber of Commerce submitted three requests to the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) asking for an extension of the 30-day comment period to allow for appropriate review of the three proposed rules on (1) Standards Relating to Essential Health Benefits, Actuarial Value, and Accreditation; (2) Health Insurance Market Rules; Rate Review; and (3) HHS Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters for 2014, which have comment period deadlines currently of December 26th, December 26th and December 31st respectively. 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).

“The regulations under the health care law will affect virtually all of the Chamber’s members as they struggle to understand and implement these costly, complex, and burdensome requirements, and we are urging HHS to extend the comment period for these regulations so that interested groups have a reasonable amount of time to submit meaningful and constructive comments,” said Randy Johnson, the Chamber’s senior vice president for Labor, Immigration and Employee Benefits. “The 30-day comment period for these significant regulations is unreasonable given their scope and impact, and would make it incredibly difficult for the Chamber and other interested parties to help the administration produce the best regulations possible. HHS should work to ensure that interested parties will not be shortchanged in their ability to develop comprehensive comments due to the administration’s internal approval processes or misled by unusual shortcuts in the proper regulatory process.”

As the three letters state:

Standards Relating to Essential Health Benefits

“A close reading of the NPRM also reveals that the department withheld this proposed regulation until after the election, even though it was signed on August 1, 2012, over three whole months before the election. The Federal Register on page 70672 shows that the proposed rule was signed by Marilyn Tavenner, Acting Administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, on August 1, 2012, yet not approved by Secretary Sebelius until November 14, 2012, and not published in the Federal Register until November 26, 2012. The almost four months of delay and review in the Secretary’s office, between August 1st and November 14th, in and of itself indicates the complexity of this regulation and highlights the absurdity of a 30-day review period for the regulated public. Whether this delay in publication was due to political reasons surrounding the elections or not, clearly the public is entitled to a time period for review, roughly equivalent to that which was apparently needed by the Office of the Secretary, staffed by many more experts than which are typically available to the many outside entities reviewing this regulation.”

Health Insurance Market Rules, Rate Review

“A close reading of the NPRM also reveals that the department withheld this proposed regulation until after the election, even though it was signed and approved on August 6, 2012, exactly three whole months before the election. The Federal Register on page 70617 shows that the proposed rule was signed on May 15, 2012, by Marilyn Tavenner, Acting Administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the agency head in charge of producing the proposed regulation, but not approved by Secretary Sebelius until August 6, 2012 – over two months later – and, even more perplexing, not subsequently published in the Federal Register until November 26, 2012. This is a delay of over three months in publishing an approved regulation which then includes an impossibly abbreviated comment period. Certainly the public is entitled to at least the same length of time to review the proposed rule as apparently taken by the Secretary’s Office. Interested parties should not be shortchanged in their ability to develop comprehensive comments.”

HHS Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters for 2014

“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. Since the proposed rule was released on November 30, 2012, and not published in the Federal Register until December 7, 2012, 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. This is a critical week to lose given that the comment period for this proposed rule, and at least three of the other proposed rules released, is centered around the height of the holiday season. Interested parties should not be shortchanged in their ability to develop comprehensive comments due to the administration’s internal approval processes or misled by unusual shortcuts in the proper regulatory process.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world’s largest business federation representing the interests of more than 3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions, as well as state and local chambers and industry associations.