Government and Regulations

Policy Corner: Obama Suggests Eliminating Wasteful Regulations


The federal government is taking a hard look at many of its regulations, and hospitalists might have the chance to help identify those that no longer make sense.

On Jan. 18, President Obama issued Executive Order 13563, which calls, in part, for a comprehensive retrospective review of existing government regulations. The stated goal of this review is to improve or remove those rules that are out of date, unnecessary, excessively burdensome, or in conflict with other rules.

The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), the executive-level department charged with overseeing the execution of this order, asked federal agencies to submit preliminary plans for how they will conduct their internal reviews. The agencies responded, and on May 26, the White House released 30 agency preliminary plans to the public, including those prepared by the Department of Commerce, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

When reviewing some of these publicly available preliminary plans, the easy answer for some observers is to say that most rules should be eliminated. Rules requiring the use of such technologies as film X-rays instead of digital images are obvious culprits in the out-of date category; rules defining milk as "oil" (subjecting it to the same costly environmental safeguards as real oil) are just as absurd. Both of these regulations are being lifted as a result of the review.

In contrast, many rules actually do protect public health and safety and will not be subject to review. For example, as a result of federal rulemaking, highway deaths are at the lowest level in 60 years and the risk of contracting salmonella from eggs is relatively low.

As part of HHS, the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) specifically stated that "the goal of the retrospective review will be to identify opportunities to improve patient care and outcomes and reduce system costs by removing obsolete or burdensome requirements." A major CMS concern will be to prevent the elimination or revision of a regulation only to find that the problem it sought to solve resurfaces, or that its removal or revision results in unanticipated and more serious outcomes.

This review could significantly impact HM in areas of quality measurement and reporting requirements:

  • What quality measurements might not accomplish their intent?
  • What measures might result in more harm than good?
  • What reporting or process requirements could be changed to make for less duplication?
  • If requirements cannot be eliminated, how can they be improved?

Due to hospitalist expertise in quality-improvement (QI) efforts and cost containment, these stated goals and the concerns that come with them are areas where hospitalists are likely to have some good answers. Hospitalists should not hesitate to provide their input to SHM Government Relations staff so that your ideas can be shared with CMS.

A complete list of agency proposals is available at gov/actions/21st-century-regulatory-system.

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