Obama Admin “Admits” It Wrongly Excluded Public Comments on Mandate

Opinion   |   Bill Saunders and Anna Franzonello   |   Apr 13, 2012   |   3:43PM   |   Washington, DC

In August 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued an “interim final rule” on “preventive services” that provided a very narrow “religious employer” exemption to its mandated coverage for life-ending drugs and devices such as the abortion-inducing drug ella. At the time, HHS justified its decision to bypass the Administrative Procedure Act’s (APA) public comment period because such an “opportunity for public comment would be impractical and contrary to the public interest.” In other words, not needed and not worth the time.

However, that rationale was refuted by admissions HHS made in its recent Advance Notice for Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR).

In the ANPR, HHS notes that, in accord with the February 2012 statement that the Obama Administration is “committed” to finding an “accommodation” for those it is unwilling to exempt from its life-ending drugs coverage mandate, it recently held meetings with “religious organizations, insurers, women’s groups, insurance experts, and other interested stakeholders,” These meetings, the ANPR states, “began to provide more detailed information on how health coverage arrangements are currently structured, how religious accommodations work in States with contraceptive coverage requirements, and the landscape with respect to religious organizations that offer health benefits today.”

Hold it a moment. Isn’t this just the kind of input HHS dispensed with when it issued its “interim final rule”? Perhaps following the APA requirements wasn’t “impractical” and “contrary to the public interest” after all.

HHS goes on to ask a series of questions in the ANPR that highlight several other factors – such as the mandate’s broad definition of “contraception” (which includes the abortion-inducing drug ella), the violation of religious beliefs of some employers who run for-profit businesses, etc. — that would have been in the public’s best interest to comment on before HHS promulgated its final rule in February. But, once again, HHS apparently wasn’t interested…until the political heat got too hot.

All this simply underlines the fact that the mandate is what is impractical and contrary to the public interest. HHS would be well advised rescind it.

LifeNews Note: Bill Saunders is an Americans United for Life Vice President and LifeNews blogger and Anna Franzonello is a staff counsel for AUL.