From innocuous typos to substantive misstatements of policy, the Obama administration has had to correct more than 100 errors in the regulations used to implement its signature health care law.
One regulation said certain delays were “reasonable,” when it meant “unreasonable.” Another implied that health care “navigators” would have to be licensed insurance agents, when in fact agents are prohibited from becoming navigators. Employers were switched with employees, and mandates were presented as options.
Mistakes are inevitable in the regulatory process, and the vast majority of errors in Obamacare regulations are garden-variety technicalities—references to the wrong section of a law, typos, or minor clarifications.
But overall, the health care law is racking up more regulatory corrections than other large, complex measures. According to an analysis from the American Action Forum, a conservative think tank, regulators have issued 33 sets of corrections for the 104 published Obamacare regulations. All told, agencies have had to fix 254 errors, according to AAF.
The AAF counted 136 pages of regulations that simply correct errors in other regulations.
Those numbers are probably a bit too high—they include a handful of Medicare regulations that have only a small Obamacare component.
Even so, there are more errors in the Obamacare implementation process than in the regulations carrying out the similarly complex Dodd-Frank law, according to AAF.
With 104 regulations and 33 “corrective documents” (many documents contain multiple corrections), Obamacare implementation has an error rate of about 32 percent, by AAF’s calculations. Using the same formula, the think tank said Dodd-Frank implementation has an error rate lower than 10 percent.
Sam Batkins, AAF’s director of regulatory policy, said the number of errors seems like a sign that the implementation process was hurried—a charge critics have leveled before, noting that the White House held off on key regulations until after the 2012 election, then turned major rules around as quickly as possible.
“They do sometimes appear to be rushed,” Batkins said.
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A spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services Department did not respond to a request for comment about the error rates.
Most of the revisions AAF tracked are minor and in line with the sort of technical corrections published in the Federal Register every day. By far the most common changes are edited references to a specific statute or subsection of a regulation—changing “§ 101.10(b)(2)(ii)(A)” to “§ 101.11(b)(2)(iii)(A),” for example.
The people who actually read regulations in that level of detail are used to those kinds of mistakes. But pile up too many of them in regulations that also deal with major questions of policy, and the lack of clarity can take a toll on stakeholders, Batkins said.
“I can only imagine, just given the general volume … I can’t imagine that makes it easy,” he said.