By Kathleen Sebelius
The Sacramento Bee
October 19, 2011
One of government's roles is to create rules that protect the public health and keep us safe. Thanks to drug safety regulations, we can take medicine without the fear of being poisoned. Because our nation passed child labor laws, we no longer see young children working in textile mills. And these rules can also help businesses by building consumer confidence and trust.
But we also know that new technology and new approaches can make some regulations obsolete. Others overlap or are overly burdensome. And yet too often, they stay on the books, standing in the way of investment and innovation. They keep employers from putting people back to work or prevent health care providers from delivering the best care.
When old regulation stifles new growth, we all pay the price. So last January, President Obama launched an effort to shape a 21st-century regulatory system that protects public health and safety, while also promoting economic growth and saving Americans billions of dollars. The president ordered every federal agency to review existing regulations and to modify, streamline, or repeal those that were redundant or overly burdensome.
Across the government, agencies have responded to this call by applying unprecedented scrutiny to the laws and rules they oversee. At the Department of Health and Human Services, that process is already leading to some significant changes.
This week, our department proposed new rules for the hospitals that participate in Medicare to make it easier for doctors, nurses, and other hospital care providers to work together to deliver the best care.
For example, the current rules required hospitals to have a single Director of Outpatient Services. This requirement made sense back when most of the care given in a hospital was inpatient. But today, when everything from arthroscopic knee surgery to tonsil removal can be done with outpatient procedures, it makes more sense for these procedures to be overseen by the specialists responsible for them. So we're proposing to eliminate the requirement for this unnecessary administrative position.
Another change would allow physicians and nurses to provide the full range of care for which they're licensed. Many states allow providers like physician assistants and nurse practitioners to provide all the care that they're fully qualified and licensed to provide - but the federal guidelines are often more restrictive. Now, we're proposing to eliminate these restrictions so that hospitals will have more flexibility to make the best use of their staffs to care for their patients.
These are common sense steps that will enable health providers to provide better care and could save approximately $5 billion over the next five years - resources that providers can use to improve care and give patients more time with their doctors.
And these rule changes are just one part of a broader government-wide effort that could lead to savings of more than $10 billion over the next five years.
This is not a one-shot deal. President Obama has made it clear to me and all agency leaders across government that we must remain focused on reducing unnecessary regulatory burdens wherever we find them.
Contrary to what some have suggested, there has been no explosion of new rules in the Obama Administration. In fact, this administration has issued approximately the same number of regulations in its first two years as the previous administration did. What is new is this government-wide commitment to eliminating regulations that are duplicative, unnecessary, or overly burdensome.
Moving forward, we will continue to strike the balance that President Obama has called for between supporting new rules that are necessary to protect public health and safety and eliminating or modifying those regulations that cause more harm than good.
Kathleen Sebelius is the Secretary of Health and Human Services.