Regulation plays a major role in the healthcare industry, and healthcare in the United States is filtered through an alphabet soup of government agencies including the HHS, the CDC, the AHRQ, the FDA and the CMS.
The Department of Health and Human Services is a cabinet-level agency at the top the U.S. healthcare pyramid. The agency was created in 1953 as the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and was given its current name in 1979. The secretary of the HHS oversees a massive bureaucracy with eleven operating divisions that touch nearly every aspect of healthcare.
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality supports research designed to improve the quality of healthcare, reduce its costs, address patient safety and medical errors, and broaden access to essential services. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention touches nearly all aspects of daily life, employing scientists, doctors, economists, and epidemiologists who work to prevent and respond to diseases outbreaks, including those connected to foodborne illnesses.
The Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services oversees the Medicare, Medicaid, and Children’s health insurance programs used by over more than 100 million Americans. The CMS also manages programs aimed at assessing the efficacy of new medical technology. The Food and Drug Administration ensures that food is safe, pure, and wholesome and that drugs and medical devices are safe and effective.
The National Institutes of Health is primarily a biomedical and behavioral research organization with its own laboratories and clinics. With 27 institutes and centers—and more than 300,000 personnel at 2,500 universities and research institutions—the NIH is the largest source of funding for medical research in the world.
The HHS also oversees less well-known agencies such as the Administration for Community Living, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. With a proposed budget of $967 billion in 2014, healthcare oversight and regulation does not come cheap. But most Americans expect that their food supply, drugs, and medical devices are safe and effective and in a nation of 317 million, the government is required to perform those jobs.