Oct. 21, 2011
On September 30th, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) received thousands of negative comments related to the interim final rule published on August 3rd where all insurance plans were informed that they must cover the full range of FDA-approved contraceptives with no co-pay. A very narrowly defined conscience exemption for religious organizations was included which, in essence, covers only places of worship and was originally drafted by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for a bill in California. For more information on the rule, see FRC's fact sheet on this topic.
Curious to read some of the comments and get a sense of volume, this week I perused the official regulatory website of the government, regulations.gov. Recall that the language from the rule indicated that comments would be posted publicly: "All comments are posted on the Internet exactly as received, and can be retrieved by most Internet search engines."
Much to my surprise, my search led me to only a very small number of comments -- under 100. Knowing that FRC constituents alone submitted close to 12000 comments, and that USCCB constituents filed close to 60,000 comments, I was surprised and assumed I was searching incorrectly. So, I called the regulations.gov helpline and had a knowledgeable customer service representative walk me through the process to assure I was doing everything correctly. At the end of that conversation together we located only 58 comments! I then asked the customer service representative if HHS may withhold certain comments. The representative ironically began by telling me that the "Obama Administration is committed to transparency" but then told me that HHS has control over what they post.