What Is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)?

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is a Cabinet-level government department that provides health and human services and promotes research in social services, medicine, and public health. It achieves this through 11 agencies that manage more than 100 programs. The agencies include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Administration for Children and Families (ACF).

Key Takeaways

  • The Department of Health and Human Services is a federal department concerned with promoting the health and wellbeing of U.S. citizens.
  • The Department is also responsible for promoting research in social services, medicine, and public health.
  • It has 11 operating divisions and over 100 programs across its various agencies.
  • In addition to providing human services, HHS also implements programs related to social service, civil rights, and healthcare privacy.

Understanding the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

The Department of Health and Human Services was originally founded as a Cabinet-level department in 1953 as the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW). In 1979, the Department of Education Organization Law created a separate Department of Education. The remaining agencies were reorganized as the Department of Health and Human Services on May 4, 1980.

HHS implements parts of the Affordable Care Act, enforces the HIPAA Privacy Rule, ensures that human-subject research conducted by Department-funded institutions obeys regulations, and operates the Head Start program for children. It is also the largest grant-making agency in the country. According to the HHS strategic plan, some of the strategic objectives for 2018-2022 include ending the HIV epidemic through steps meant to reduce exposure, reducing opioid deaths, improving kidney care for people with end-stage renal disease, and increasing access to mental and behavioral health programs. 

Over 100

The number of programs the Department of Health and Human Services oversees across its 11 divisions.

HHS Agencies and Offices

The Department of Health and Human Services aims to "protect the health of all Americans and provide essential human services, especially for those who are least able to help themselves." To achieve this mission, HHS has 11 operating divisions, which conduct various research. This includes eight agencies in the U.S. Public Health Service and three human services agencies, all of which offer a variety of health and human services. These operating divisions include Administration for Children and Families (ACF); Administration for Community Living (ACL); Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ); Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR); Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS); Food and Drug Administration (FDA); Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA); Indian Health Service (IHS); National Institutes of Health (NIH); and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). 

HHS oversees more than 100 programs across its 11 operating divisions that consist of social service programs, civil rights and healthcare privacy programs, disaster preparedness programs, and health-related research. A variety of social service programs are offered, geared toward people with low income, disabilities, military families and senior citizens. HHS oversees healthcare rights, as well, in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). HIPAA protects patients' medical information and workers' health insurance when unemployed, and also sets guidelines surrounding health insurance.