Dear Addy: Becoming Involved With Committees

Dear Addy,
I recently participated in a state legislative day and there was a lot of discussion about committees. It’s been years since I took a civics class and I don’t remember much about committees. Could you explain what they are and why they’re important to our advocacy efforts?
Curious About Committees

Dear Curious,
Great question! Understanding committees, who should serve on them, and which committees work on health care issues will strengthen your advocacy efforts.
What are committees?

  • Committees help organize the most important work of the U.S. Congress and State Legislatures.
  • After a legislator sponsors a bill, it is assigned to a committee for Congress to consider; many bills are sent to committee, yet few bills make it out for consideration on the floor. Committee Chairs have enormous influence over the process.
  • On the Federal level, the House of Representatives has 19 committees and the Senate has 17 committees. Some committees have a sub-committee where the workload is divided amongst members. Recommendations from sub-committees must be approved by the full committee before they are reported to the House or Senate.
  • On the state level, the number of committees varies by state.

How are members assigned to committees?

  • Political parties assign newly elected legislators to standing committees based on their preference and the needs of the committee.
  • Representatives usually serve on one or two committees, whereas Senators often serve on multiple committees and sub-committees.

What committees work on health care and other issues relevant to bleeding disorders?

  • In the U.S. Senate, the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) has jurisdiction over three important executive agencies: (1) Department of Health and Human Services, (2) Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, and (3) National Institutes of Health.
  • In the U.S. House of Representatives, the Appropriations Committee is responsible for legislation allocating federal funds, the Ways and Means Committee has jurisdiction over Medicare, and the Energy and Commerce Committee has jurisdiction over food and drug safety, health insurance, and public health research.
  • Committee names vary in the states, but many states have committees with jurisdiction over Health, Insurance, and budgetary matters (“Ways and Means”).

How can I use this information during meetings with my legislators?

  • Before you meet with your legislator, find out which committee they serve on. You can find this information on your legislator’s website.
  • If your legislator serves on a committee that handles health care, you can refer to their assignment during a meeting to demonstrate you’ve done your homework. If the committee is considering a bill relevant to the bleeding disorders community, specifically mention the committee’s jurisdiction over the bill and share your story about how the bill would affect you. HFA encourages you to share your story regardless of if your legislator is on a committee that handles health care!
  • Offer to be a resource on the bill or future legislation being considered by the committee.

Find out which committees your legislators serve on and monitor legislation using HFA’s Take Action Center. For more information on this topic or other civics questions, check out the
Have a question? Click HERE. Your name will be changed in the response.
HFA frequently receives questions from the bleeding disorders community related to advocacy issues. The questions often impact the entire community. In an effort to reach the largest audience possible with our responses to these widely applicable questions, HFA developed “Dear Addy.” Questions submitted to this column are edited in order to protect privacy and should be considered educational only, not individual guidance.