HHS Proposes to Repeal Rules that Limit Its Authority
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently proposed to repeal two rules implemented under the Trump Administration to moderate the power of the agency. The rules HHS seeks to repeal are the Good Guidance Rule and the Civil Enforcement Rule. Public comments on the proposal are due by November 19, 2021.
The Good Guidance Rule was implemented to make guidance documents easier for the public to access and provide input on, and created extra screening steps before HHS may implement guidance. The major provisions of the Good Guidance Rule are: (1) a requirement that each guidance document issued by HHS generally include certain information, including a statement that the guidance does not have the force and effect of law and is not binding unless specifically incorporated into a contract; (2) additional procedures for ‘‘significant guidance documents’’ (defined as those with an estimated impact of greater than $100 million), including a period of notice and comment, a requirement that the Secretary of HHS personally approve new guidance, and a requirement for submission to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) for review; (3) creation of a repository for all guidance documents along with a provision stating that guidance documents not in the repository are not effective and would be considered rescinded; and (4) procedures for the public to petition the Department to withdraw or modify any particular guidance document.
The Civil Enforcement Rule was implemented to provide greater notice to providers subject to civil enforcement actions and greater transparency of HHS’s civil enforcement actions. Under the Civil Enforcement Rule, before taking civil enforcement actions, HHS must provide the targeted party with an initial notice of the agency’s legal and factual determinations, an opportunity to object or respond, and the Department’s written response to the affected party’s objections.
Both rules were implemented by HHS under the Trump Administration in response to directives contained in executive orders issued by then-President Trump. Those executive orders were rescinded early in the Biden Administration. HHS has also indicated that it has reconsidered its position and now considers the rules to be cumbersome and burdensome on the Department, confusing, and a poor use of the Department’s limited resources. It is important to note that, regardless of HHS’s repeal of these rules, HHS guidance documents alone generally do not have the force of law and generally cannot create new substantive legal standards that are not found in the underlying statutes or regulations.
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