White House Taps the Brakes on HHS Religious Rule

12 Jun 2018 | SOURCE: Modern Healthcare

White Houses taps the brakes on HHS religious rule

The White House has urged HHS not to finalize a rule that will require hospitals and physician practices to create standards and procedures to protect their employees’ religious and moral beliefs until it can elaborate how the policy will affect the industry.

HHS received more than 72,000 comments on the rulemaking before the March deadline. The agency is still drafting a final version of the rule, but proactively asked the Office of Management and Budget to allow it to confirm that providers were both complying with the rule and notifying staff and patients of their rights.

OMB denied both requests, saying in a notice that HHS did not provide industry comments on how these changes would affect their business. Under federal law, agencies have to disclose the comments they receive, their responses and any changes made to proposed regulation because of the feedback received.

HHS also didn’t provide OMB with adequate estimates of the time it would take providers to implement the rule. Prior to publication of the overall final rule, HHS must address these deficiencies, according to the OMB.

Officials from both the HHS and the OMB did not respond to requests for comment.

Requiring hospitals to provide assurances and certifications that they were complying with the proposed rule would create unnecessary burdens and costs, according to Cesar Lopez, associate general counsel at the Texas Hospital Association.

“Healthcare entities already comply with a myriad of state and federally mandated notice requirements; creating additional, unnecessary notification burdens in a time of decreased funding and ever-expanding regulatory requirements would be onerous,” Lopez said in a comment letter.

Hospitals have also questioned the need for the rule since they believe adequate protections for their staff’s religious beliefs are already in place.

“The proposed regulatory regime places unnecessary additional administrative and other burdens upon employers, while also inadequately considering the rights of patients and responsibilities of healthcare entities,” David McCune, vice president of corporate compliance at St. Louis-based BJC HealthCare, said in a comment letter. “It creates potential inconsistencies between existing, well-established bodies of federal and state anti-discrimination law.”

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