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The Committee Every Lawmaker Should Want to Serve On

The Health and Human Services Committee is a place where a policymaker can have a profound, powerful impact.

W. Travis Cummings
Florida state Rep. W. Travis Cummings, chairman of the state's Health and Human Services Committee
(AP/Mark Wallheiser)
In legislatures across the country, assignments to powerful committees are coveted by freshmen and experienced legislators alike. Committee assignments are a sign of pecking order, an indicator of prestige and an invitation to important work. Come election time, the work done in committee often translates into the ultimate political prize of promises made and promises kept.

During election cycles and transition periods, one of the most top-of-mind questions for state legislators is: "How do I get on the Appropriations Committee?" Followed by its close second: "How do I get on the Rules Committee?" This a key insight I learned during my service in the administration of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, an insight that holds true today as I meet with state legislators as CEO of a Medicaid managed care organization that partners with state governments.

To those current or aspiring legislators with their eyes squarely set on Rules or Appropriations, I'd like to offer another option with as much influence on the budget, jobs and real-person impact as any committee in the statehouse: the Health and Human Services Committee.

The rapid evolution of the health-care industry in both government and the private sector makes the members of legislative health and human services committees the rising stars of action and influence. More than just oversight, the issues and budgets rolling through these committees make them incubators of big ideas with tremendous potential for lawmakers who are looking to make a difference.

It's hard to imagine a sector with more jobs, dollars or impact connected to it than health. National health spending, under current law, is projected to grow at an average rate of 5.5 percent a year -- a full percentage point faster than the Gross Domestic Product -- and could reach $5.7 trillion by 2026. Of particular interest to lawmakers: Medicare and Medicaid are both projected to be substantial contributors to the rate of national health-expenditure growth through 2026.

With those numbers come jobs, workforce development, technology and even construction. In many smaller cities the newest, most appreciable building is often a hospital, and that hospital is usually one of the county's largest employers. Most communities could never attract enough new investment from other sectors to come even close to health care's direct and indirect economic benefits.

But as big as the numbers are, they don't tell the whole story. The issues are high-profile and require attention. The opioid crisis is a national emergency. Mental health and wellness vault to the top of public concern each time a community faces a mass shooting tragedy. Immunization, the social determinants of health, Medicaid as a positive force in developing healthy families and communities -- all of these issues are in need of our best and brightest minds in search of community-centered solutions.

Good health drives the human experience. Without it, people can't go to school or work, support their families, or contribute to their fullest potential as active, productive members of their communities. Health policy, therefore, requires thinking with new perspective and looking at issues not traditionally associated with health care but still inextricably linked to health outcomes, such as stable housing, affordable and reliable transportation, and access to education and healthy food. In this approach, strategically delivered health care becomes an engine of the American Dream.

When considering the possibility of serving on a health and human services committee, some newly elected legislators may say, "I am not an expert" or "I don't know enough about health care." But that's the beauty and design of an elected legislature: Farmers and accountants sit across from car dealers and teachers, all elected by their neighbors to solve the problems of the day. Lawmakers with a health background bring great value, but what we most need are passionate individuals with diverse backgrounds and talents. Whether addressing the opioid crisis, helping young, single mothers get their GED, or making smart and strategic investments in health outcomes, the best results will come from individuals committed equally to governing wisely and improving lives.

At some point, legislators become former legislators, and they will have to answer the question, "What did you accomplish when you were in office?" Serving on a health and human services committee is an opportunity to create a meaningful answer to that question -- to create a legacy by making a profound and positive impact on every constituent.

Chairman and CEO of the AmeriHealth Caritas Family of Companies, a Medicaid managed care organization
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