Health Literacy: the ABCs of HHS

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We thought it was time for a refresh on the alphabet of government agencies designed to keep us healthy. The government body charged with overseeing and providing essential public health services in the U.S. is the Department of Health and Human Services, also known as HHS. HHS oversees 11 unique divisions, each of which leads a particular aspect of public health in our country.


ACF - Administration for Children and Families
Established in 1991, ACF promotes the economic and social well-being of children, individuals and families through supportive and educational programs.

ACL - Administration for Community Living
The Administration for Community Living grew out of the combination of the Administration on Aging, Administration of Developmental Disabilities and Office of Disabilities. This administration provides resources and community support to elderly Americans and to those with disabilities.

AHRQ - Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
Through research, the AHRQ works to provide "evidence to make health care safer, higher quality, more accessible, equitable and affordable." This agency also works with HHS as a whole to collaborate on these efforts.

ATSDR - Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
This agency works to prevent exposure to toxic substances through waste sites, environmental pollution and other unplanned release events. In cases of toxic exposure, the ATSDR also focuses on health impacts and decreased quality of life for affected individuals.

CDC - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
As one of the most well-known organizations of the HHS, the CDC likely requires less explanation. Since 1946, the CDC has been advising the nation on the prevention and control of disease and public health emergencies.

CMS - Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
CMS oversees the quality assurance of Medicare and Medicaid programs, along with the Health Insurance Marketplace and the State Children's Health Insurance Program. One of its most successful programs to date? Medicare Part D, the prescription drug program that provides affordable medicines to seniors.

FDA - Food and Drug Administration
Another well-known organization, the FDA works to keep food, drugs, medical devices and other products safe and effective for human and animal use. With the help of legislation like the Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA), the FDA also supports the discovery and innovation that makes medicines safer and more accessible.

HRSA - Health Resources and Services Administration
Through a skilled health workforce and innovative programs, the HRSA works to improve health and health equity.

IHS - Indian Health Service
As part of the Public Health Service, the IHS provides care and comprehensive health programs to American Indians and Alaskan Natives.

NIH - National Institutes of Health
Globally, the NIH advocates the sharing knowledge around biomedical and behavioral health issues. In addition, it works to amplify the work of clinics and laboratories while also offering training to young researchers.

SAMHSA - Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
For communities, families and individuals, SAMHSA helps those who are at risk of, or afflicted with, addiction or mental disorders by increasing access to effective services and programs.


The alphabet of HHS may not end in X, Y, Z, but, we hope it was educational and informative nevertheless! Some of these organizations are highly specific, while others are far-reaching and more consequential, but all are important. Happy Health Literacy Month!