Patient groups seek delay on ‘essential benefit’ rules

A broad coalition of patient advocates Wednesday asked the Obama administration to slow down its implementation of a key regulation under the healthcare law.

A group of 75 patient organizations asked the Health and Human Services Department to allow more time for public comment on its proposal for defining essential health benefits. The healthcare law directs HHS to define a package of essential benefits that all insurance plans will have to cover beginning in 2014.

HHS raised eyebrows last month by announcing that it would leave determination of essential benefits largely up to the states. Defining a generous and prescriptive set of benefits could significantly increase the cost of insurance. But patient advocates said the purpose of the requirement is to ensure that necessary services are covered, and too much leeway will undermine that goal.

The 75 groups that wrote to HHS on Wednesday asked the department to extend the period for public comment on its proposal by 45 days. They cited the scope of the issues involved and the fact that the proposal came shortly before the holiday season.

Weighing in on this decision is far too important to be done with anything less than careful and intensive deliberation, the groups wrote.