Bills, Laws, Regulations & Policies – Understanding the Differences

A legislator recently contacted me regarding an email he received from a constituent asking questions about a bill that had passed that caused her son’s Medicaid waiver funding to be reduced. The legislator could not understand how such a bill could pass without him knowing about it, let alone knowing enough detail to answer the constituent’s question. Come to find out, it was not a bill as the constituent had stated, it was the policy regarding the Objective Based Budget Allocation (OBA) process that was put into place by the Division of Disability and Rehabilitative Services (DDRS).

While bills did pass in the recent legislative session that could affect waiver budgets, this issue was specifically on the OBA process for waivers.  I took this as an opportunity to educate the legislator on the good, the bad and the ugly regarding OBA, as well as to apologize for legislators getting criticized for something they had not enacted.

It is really important that we all understand the difference between a bill, a law, a regulation and a policy.  In a nut shell, bills that go through the legislative process and are signed by the Governor become law; regulations are proposed by the administrative branch, go through public hearing process, are approved by the Governor, and have the force of law; policies are put into place by the administrative branch, may or may not go through a public hearing process, and while they do not have the force of law, they can greatly impact how programs and services are implemented.

Trust me, I recognize the glazed over eyes when I talk about this. I understand that not everyone is as passionate about this as me. Although I think about the public policy process as giant chess game, others liken it to watching sausage being made….YUCK!

All fun aside, it is critically important that we all put forth accurate information to our lawmakers.  We want to show them we understand the process, know what we are talking about, and can be a trusted source of credible information.  Whether we are paid lobbyists, professionals in the field, a parent or a person with a disability, we do this so that lawmakers will contact us for input and advice on issues facing people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities.

In the case of how OBA is impacting individuals and families, let your legislators know how this policy of the Division of Disability and Rehabilitative Services (DDRS) is impacting you and your love one, and ask if he or she can contact DDRS.  This will help make your legislator aware of your concern, offer him or her the opportunity to intervene, and establish yourself as a source of information on how state policies impact individual constituents.

The Arc is always here to help.  Please don’t ever hesitate to contact us if you have a question about how to clearly state an issue or concern.  It benefits us all to work together and share information.  You can contact us at 317-977-2375, 800-382-9100 or You might also find it helpful to read our Advocacy Guide.

Finally, stay connected and informed by visiting us at

Kim Dodson is The Arc of Indiana’s Associate Executive Director

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