Health Care Jurisdiction in the Senate

One of the more confusing aspects of following Congress can be determining which Committee has jurisdiction over the matters you are interested in.  This is particularly true when it comes to health care, as a number of committees have jurisdiction over different parts of the nation’s health care system.  This post is a short primer on how these matters are broken up among Senate Committees.  A primer on House Committees will be up in the coming days.

Under Senate Rule XVII, each measure is typically referred to only a single committee based on “the subject matter which predominates” in the legislation.  Provided below is information on each of the relevant Senate Committees, its leadership, and the matters it reviews.  Please note that this list is not intended to be exhaustive, as numerous other Committees – such as those with oversight of Department of Defense, Veterans’ Affairs or the State Department – have oversight of specific health programs within those agencies.  Rather, we are focusing on the matters most often affecting those within the health sphere: the funding and oversight of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Senate Appropriations Committee

Chair: Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)

Ranking Member: Thad Cochran (R-MS)

Health Care Responsibilities: The Appropriations Committee is responsible for drafting the legislation to allocate federal funds to government agencies.  Within the Committee, there are 12 Subcommittees which oversee smaller subsets of department spending.  Most direct health care related spending is considered by the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (LHHS) Subcommittee, chaired by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) with Ranking Member Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL).

Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee

Chair: Tom Harkin (D-IA)

Ranking Member: Lamar Alexander (R-TN)

Health Care Responsibilities: The HELP Committee has jurisdiction over most non-Medicare and non-Medicaid government health care activities.  The Committee oversees the various agencies Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Administration on Aging, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).  The Committee is also tasked with oversight relating to “public health and health insurance statutes to address emerging threats and changing patterns in the healthcare industry.”

Senate Finance Committee

Chair: Max Baucus (D-MT)

Ranking Member: Orrin Hatch (R-UT)

Health Care Responsibilities: The Finance Committee oversees activities at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).  This includes Medicare Parts A & B; Medicare Advantage (Part C); Medicare Drug Benefit (Part D); Medicaid; and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.  The Committee also shares oversight of the Administration for Children and Families with the HELP Committee.

Senate Special Committee on Aging

Chair: Bill Nelson (D-FL)

Ranking Member: Susan Collins (R-ME)

Health Care Responsibilities: The Special Committee on Aging does not have the legislative authority charged to the standing committees, but does conduct studies and oversight of issues affecting older Americans such as Medicare Social Security, long-term care, and prescription drug costs.


This entry was posted in Health Care by Andrew Bowman. Bookmark the permalink.

About Andrew Bowman

Andrew Bowman, legislative assistant at Drinker Biddle & Reath, specializes in legislative research and analysis for government relations clients across a variety of policy areas, including health care, education, and communications. He also has extensive experience with federal lobbying disclosure and campaign finance compliance. Prior to joining Drinker Biddle, Andrew served as an aide to Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) for several years, and was active in the Senator’s 2008 Presidential campaign.

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