Child Health

The SUNSET Proposed Rule Would Undermine Important HHS Services for Children and Families

December 14, 2020 | National

On November 4th, the Trump Administration released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that, if implemented, would dramatically alter the regulatory landscape and would bury the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under a mountain of red tape for the next two years. The proposed rule, titled the Securing Updated and Necessary Statutory Evaluations Timely (“SUNSET”) rule, would require HHS to review and re-approve all regulations every ten years, automatically rescinding any regulations that had not been re-approved. It would give HHS two years to review and re-approve the more than 12,000 existing regulations that are already more than 10 years old. The SUNSET rule is arbitrary, poorly conceived, and potentially extremely dangerous for children. The Children’s Defense Fund strongly opposes the rule and requests that it be withdrawn immediately.

Regulations play an important role in implementing a wide range of HHS policies and programs serving children and families, including child care, substance use treatment, child welfare, food safety, and health care. While CDF supports measures to review and improve regulations to make them more effective and less burdensome, we are concerned this rule would have the opposite effect, overwhelming the next administration with bureaucracy and making it more difficult to devote appropriate attention to regulations that actually need to be updated. The Department’s own estimates suggest that the process will require at least 90 full time staff and will cost nearly $26 million in taxpayer funds. It is extremely irresponsible to divert such extensive resources from HHS, especially given the critical role the agency must play in COVID response and recovery.

The rule would also create serious uncertainty in the regulatory landscape. CDF is especially concerned about the impact on health insurance programs, including Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which ensure comprehensive health coverage to 36 million children and tens of millions of parents and caregivers, as well as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) which has numerous related regulations that will reach their ten-year anniversary within the next two years. Businesses and organizations in the health care sector, and in other sectors under the purview of HHS, structure their programs around the regulatory environment. The current rulemaking process, which requires a public comment period and for the agency to respond to public comments, provides stability for these organizations, as it safeguards against capricious regulatory changes and extends the process, giving organizations time to adapt if changes take effect. This regulatory stability will be undermined if regulations are automatically rescinded, or could be automatically rescinded, simply because the Department is understaffed. This would hinder the efficiency of our economy and the provision of services and it would make children substantially less safe.

CDF is also extremely concerned about the precedent this rule would set. Automatic sunset provisions would allow future administrations to sidestep the clear procedures and standards for modifying or rescinding rules that have been in effect for nearly 75 years. This would mean that an administration could do away with vital regulations for political reasons, simply by letting them lapse. The ability to respond to proposed rules or rule changes is a vital tool in CDF’s efforts to advocate for the interests of children. Allowing future administrations to sidestep the procedures in place would take that ability away from advocacy organizations, other stakeholders, and the public.

The thousands of regulations in place at HHS are crucial for keeping children healthy, safe, and prepared to succeed. Our children deserve a regulatory environment that is carefully crafted to protect their safety and well-being, not one that has been hastily constructed under arbitrary rules. CDF strongly opposes the SUNSET rule and requests that it be withdrawn immediately.