Health-Care’s Added Cost: Compliance

Photograph by Mladen Antonov/AFP via Getty Images

A cardboard cut-out of President Barack Obama in a tent defending “Obamacare” at a street fair in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The 2010 health-care law that’s expected to expand insurance coverage to 27 million Americans in the next decade isn’t cheap: About $1.2 trillion through 2022.

There’s another cost, less well known: The time Americans will spend complying with the law and its requirements. And that figure may be even more jaw-dropping: About 127.6 million man-hours per year and counting, according to the House Ways and Means Committee.

The committee — chaired by Michigan Republican Dave Camp, no fan of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act — unveiled today what it calls the “Obama-care Burden Tracker.” The online tool relies on data produced by the Obama administration itself as it writes regulations implementing the health law.

Under a law called the Paperwork Reduction Act, federal agencies have to calculate how much time the nation’s citizenry will spend complying with their regulations. The burden is reported in hours as part of regulatory filings, and is summed up in a report from the White House Office of Management and Budget each year.

In 2011, for example, Americans spent about 9.1 billion hours on federal paperwork, according to the most recent report. In that context, the health-care law will only increase the public’s bureaucratic burden by about 14 percent.

“With many rules and regulations yet to come, these 127 million burden hours — many of them due to complying with new taxes — are just the tip of the iceberg,” Camp said in a statement.

Some of the burden, though, is voluntary.

For example, the most burdensome regulation yet issued under the 2010 health-care law relates to an optional tax credit available to small businesses that insure their workers. Complying with those rules alone would cost Americans about 40 million hours a year, the Obama administration says; perhaps an indication why many small businesses aren’t bothering.

A spokeswoman for the White House budget office, asked about the Ways and Means burden tracker, didn’t dispute Camp’s math. She noted that Obama has repealed some of the government’s regulatory burden, including a proposal yesterday to dump a handful of rules for hospitals in the Medicare program that the administration considers unnecessary or obsolete.

“From the start, the Administration has taken a balanced regulatory approach, focusing on putting in place lifesaving protections, while eliminating tens of millions of hours of paperwork burdens for our nation’s citizens and businesses,” said the spokeswoman, Jessica Santillo, in an e-mail. “As part of this approach, President Obama has launched an historic review of existing rules on the books to streamline, modify, or get rid of those that cost too much or no longer make sense, an effort that is already on track to save billions of dollars.”





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