Every day, our world becomes a little more digital. With more and more of us communicating by email, getting our news on phones and tablets rather than on newsprint, and paying our bills online, some believe it's only a matter of time before we become a paperless society.
But I'm not holding my breath for that to happen. While I use email as much as the next person and even buy most of my books electronically these days, there's one major generator of paper that keeps chugging along: the government.
Ever since the enactment of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, also known as Obamacare, the United States Department of Health and Human Services has nearly doubled the amount of time it requires Americans to spend on paperwork. In 2016, HSS imposed an estimated 700 million hours of paperwork on us. That was up sharply from 412 million hours it imposed just eight years earlier.
Sam Batkins, Director of Regulatory Policy at the American Action Forum, has attempted to put those 700 million hours of paperwork into perspective for us. He says, "it would take 354,500 employees working full-time in the private sector (2,000 hours annually) to complete a year of HHS paperwork. That is more than the population of Honolulu, Hawaii dedicated to regulatory compliance for HHS. To monetize this figure, assuming the average wage rate of a compliance officer, yields a burden of $23.1 billion."
So, if the huge increases in your health care premiums and deductibles under the ACA haven't been enough to make you sick to your stomach, the massive amount of time you've been spending filling out new HHS-mandated forms at home, in your doctor's office and at work could have brought about another ailment: writer's cramp.
However, as Betsy McCaughey points out in her book, "What's Ailing America," it's not just health care consumers who are being forced to waste time filling out paperwork. All this paperwork is robbing doctors of the time they have available to spend with their patients.
She reveals that a 2014 ACA rule required doctors who take Medicare to report 18 different clinical measurements for each senior they treat. Regulators estimate that it could take as long as 108 minutes per patient to make the annual report. All this time spent on new paperwork mandates, says McCaughey, is "time that could be spent treating patients, calling them to remind them to take their meds, or following up on their care. Instead, the labor is being confiscated by the federal bureaucracy to serve its own ends."
Earlier this year, I reported here that complying with all of this red tape is not only taking our doctors’ time away from us, it’s stressing them out in a big way. A survey of 14,000 physicians from a wide variety of specialties found that more than half of them said they feel burned out in their job — a 25 percent increase from just four years ago. The number one reason for feeling burned out was listed as too many bureaucratic tasks. Paperwork.
Economists like to talk about the law of unintended consequences, and it’s time to recognize that the explosion in paperwork required by the ACA has had a major negative effect on health care. It may not have been intentional, but it’s very real and has far-reaching consequences.
Fortunately, that could be changing for the better in the months ahead. Now that Congress is tackling health care reform again, not only do millions of American stand to see relief in the form of lower health care premiums and deductibles, but in the form of a dramatically lower burden to fill out paperwork. That alone will be a huge relief to both patients and doctors.
Bob Dorigo Jones is senior fellow at the Center for America, creator of the annual Wacky Warning Labels™ Contest, and the bestselling author of "Remove Child Before Folding: The 101 Stupidest, Silliest and Wackiest Warning Labels Ever." His weekly radio commentary, "Let’s Be Fair!" airs on radio stations across the United States. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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