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Regulation and Compliance > Federal Regulation

Obama HHS explains how to estimate health regulation pain

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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has just published a document that could affect how much time agents, insurers, consumers and employers spend agonizing over paperwork for years to come: an informal guide to estimating the impact of new HHS regulations and programs.

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The guide simply “represents the current thinking of” HHS on the regulatory impact analysis process, and “it does not establish any requirements for any person,” officials say in the acknowledgements. 

Officials at the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, an arm of HHS that has often published commentaries supporting the Affordable Care Act, hired outside consultants to create the guide. HHS officials in the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump could choose to ignore the guide.

But even if Trump administration officials end up creating a new guide, they could use the Obama-era version to figure out how they want to handle the many federal impact assessment programs.

One major impact assessment program, the Paperwork Reduction Act, requires HHS and HHS agencies to put new information collection efforts through reviews, and to review existing information collection efforts every three years.

Another impact assessment program requires agencies to estimate how much a big new regulation might help or hurt small businesses.

The authors of the new guide talk generally about how to estimate the amount of time and money that impacted people and entities will need to comply with new federal requirements.

The authors say burden estimators should think about insurance costs when estimating how much entities will spend on the labor needed to meet requirements. The authors do not directly refer to any efforts to estimate how much new HHS requirements might affect insurance companies, insurance agents or insurance brokers.

In the past, benefits compliance specialists have told that many federal Affordable Care Act compliance burden estimates have looked absurdly low.

When HHS is analyzing record keeping and reporting requirements, it should “interview the affected community to obtain estimates of the amount of time required for record keeping and reporting,” the authors of the guide write. “Note that record keeping may also result in substantial storage costs.”

One challenge for burden estimators is including overhead costs, the authors of the guide say.

“Overhead costs vary greatly across industries and firm sizes,” the authors say. “No readily available, national data exist on overhead rates by industry or sector.” 


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