Researching Health Policy Legislation


This is a brief guide to researching current health policy issues and legislation in the U.S. on the internet. Tracking legislation through Congress can be a complicated process. Consult the U.S. Government Documents guide, The Legislative Process, for a step-by-step explanation of the process and the tools, both in print and on the internet, used for following legislation from the introduction of a bill, to its passage into law, to eventual regulatory enforcement. There is also a guide, How to Compile a Legislative History, which may prove useful.

Keyword and subject searches on CLIO will locate relevant government documents in the U.S. Government Documents collection. All U.S. Government Documents items are located in the East Reading Room of Lehman Library. NOTE:The CLIO record will not indicate whether a Documents item is available in print or on microfiche, so it is necessary to check both the print stacks and the microfiche cabinets using the call number found in CLIO.

Resources marked with this symbol are restricted to Columbia affiliates.


Background Information & Evaluation in Journals

Sources for background information on legislation, its implementation, and consequences are:

  • Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report
    Washington, D.C. Congressional Quarterly, 1948-
    Current - Lehman Reference
  • CQ.com on Congress
  • Congressional Quarterly Almanac (annual)
    Washington, D.C. : CQ Press, 1953-
    JK 1 .C66 - Lehman Reference
    CQ covers everything that goes on in Congress, indexed; useful to determine dates, chronologies, bill titles and numbers. Also a good source for a succint analysis of the issues related to a particular piece of legislation. Use the weeklies for current legislation, the annual almanac for prior years. Congressional Quarterly is the best source to use for initial identification of legislation to research.
    Note: Only bills which were passed into law will have legislative histories.
  • Health Affairs
    Health care policy journal, featuring articles and papers submitted by various health care policy experts.
  • Health Care Financing Review (quarterly)
    Washington, D.C. : Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, 1979-
    Periodicals H - Social Work
    Scholarly journal from CMMS -- a good source for comprehensive health care financing information, including evaluation and review.
  • Lexis-Nexis Academic
    A source of full text newspapers and news magazines; useful for reportage and public debate of issues.
  • National Journal (biweekly)
    Washington: Government Research Corp., 1981-
    JK 1 .N28 - Lehman
    Current Issues - Lehman Periodicals Room
    National Journal Group's Policy Central provides online access to the full text of the National Journal, as well as other tools to assist in identifying and tracking health legislation. National Journal is more policy-oriented than CQ and is useful for identifying the major players and issues surrounding legislation. NOTE: Columbia's subscription does NOT include access to American Health Line.
  • Social Work Abstracts
    Social Work Abstracts is the index to journal literature in the field of social work. It can be supplemented by journal literature searches in related indexes, such as ERIC, PsycInfo, Social Services Abstracts, Sociological Abstracts, etc. Ask a reference librarian for relevant indexes to your specific topic.

Sources for Legislation and Policy

The major U.S. governmental sites for health policy legislation are:

  • Thomas
    Source for current bills and other legislative activities. Click on "Bill Summary & Status" and search on "Subject Term" using topics such as "Health Policy" or "Disabled" to retrieve a list of bills that relate to those topics. At the top of the page you can select to search previous congresses as well.
  • LexisNexis Congressional

    Each can be searched by keyword, or by bill number (back to 1989), P.L. number (back to 1989), or FR/CFR citation (current). You can also search CIS Legislative Histories by keyword back to 1970. Legislative Histories are the detailed records of congressional legislation, containing references to all bills, hearings, committee reports, etc., associated with all public laws.

    The print version of LexisNexis Congressional is the CIS Index, located on the Lehman Reference Index Tables. It can be more efficient to consult the printed indexes for older material, since there are legislative histories compiled for laws passed since 1970.
  • Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMMS)
    Formerly known as the Health Care Financing Agency (HCFA), this is the federal agency that administers the Medicare, Medicaid and Child Health Insurance Programs. Much information is available on this site, including health care spending projections, the Medicare Handbook, statistics and data, etc. Of particular interest is the section on Laws & Regulations, which contains links to full text of major legislation affecting CMMS, the President's legislative proposals, hearings and appeals, and Federal Register notices.
  • HHS Topics -- Mental Health
    Contains links to mental health information from numerous Federal government programs.
  • Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
    The Policies & Regulations page links to the major laws and regulations which direct health care in the U.S., the policies & guidelines used within HHS, and testimony of HHS official before Congress.
  • Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC)
    MedPAC is an independent federal body that advises the U.S. Congress on issues affecting the Medicare program. The Commission's 17 members, who bring diverse expertise in the financing and delivery of health services, meet publicly to discuss policy issues and formulate recommendations to the Congress on improving Medicare policies. A series of reports was issued to Congress in 2002.
  • National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare
    The final proposal, also known as the Breaux-Thomas Medicare Reform Proposal, was released on March 16, 1999. The web site contains the full text of the proposal, estimates of the costs, transcripts of the commission meetings, and other Medicare documents.
  • Office of Management & Budget (OMB)
    OMB's predominant mission is to assist the President in overseeing the preparation of the Federal budget and to supervise its administration in Executive Branch agencies. In helping to formulate the President's spending plans, OMB evaluates the effectiveness of agency programs, policies, and procedures, assesses competing funding demands among agencies, and sets funding priorities. OMB ensures that agency reports, rules, testimony, and proposed legislation are consistent with the President's budget and with Administration policies.

    Under "Legislative Information," there is a particularly useful section:

  • President's Advisory Commission on Consumer Protection and Quality in the Health Care Industry
    The Commission was created by President Clinton to "advise the President on changes occurring in the health care system and recommend such measures as may be necessary to promote and assure health care quality and value, and protect consumers and workers in the health care system." Includes the Consumer Bill of Rights and Responsibilities and the Commission's final report, Quality First: Better Health Care for All Americans, released March 12, 1998.
  • Strengthening Medicare
    Outline of President Bush's program for Medicare, with links to policy documents, news releases, and radio addresses.
  • Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
    The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is the Federal agency charged with improving the quality and availability of prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation services in order to reduce illness, death, disability, and cost to society resulting from substance abuse and mental illnesses.

Sources for Evaluation Within Government

Evaluation of legislation within the government can take place in a number of places, for a variety of reasons. Within the agency most concerned with the legislation, there may be followup studies, additional research, Congressional testimony, etc. The agency web page is a good place to start -- look for terms like testimony, policy, research, evaluations, communications to Congress, etc.

There are some agencies which exist solely to serve as "watchdogs" of other agencies and their expenditures and policies. They are:

Sources for Evaluation by Research Centers

Nonprofit research centers are major players in the ongoing development of health care policy, at both the federal and state levels. Some of the prominent centers are:

  • Alliance for Health Reform
    The Alliance for Health Reform offers an exhaustive list of health care policy experts and their affiliations, along with phone numbers and Web addresses.
  • Center for Health and Public Policy Studies
    Provides data and organizes convenings that support public policies to develop an affordable, high-quality health care system.
  • The Commonwealth Fund
    The Commonwealth Fund is a philanthropic foundation established in 1918 by Anna M. Harkness with the broad charge to enhance the common good. The fund's international program in health policy seeks to build a network of policy-oriented health care researchers whose multinational experience and outlook stimulate innovative policies and practices in the United States and other industrialized countries.
  • Duke Center for Clinical Health Policy Research
    The Center for Clinical Health Policy Research addresses the entire spectrum of clinical health policy -- from policy formation using evidence-based approaches to strategies for optimal policy implementation.
  • Families USA
    A good source for monitoring state health care activity, this site posts information about state programs and laws, and provides links to local consumer groups.
  • The Forum for State Health Policy Leadership
    Unit within the National Conference of State Legislatures whose mission is to enhance the capacity for informed decision-making and legislative leadership regarding the financing, organization and delivery of health care services to low income and vulnerable populations.
  • Health Care Policy: Moving Ideas (Electronic Policy Network)
    Articles and reports on health insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, managed care, the future of hospitals and medical practice, public health, bioethics, and new technology.
  • Health Policy Watch
    Run by the Century Foundation, Health Policy Watch provides a guide to medicare policy experts, a list of recent research, and links to other sites.
  • Kaiser Family Foundation
    The focus is on research and publication in its Health Policy program, whose major initiatives and focus areas include the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, the Medicare Policy Project, the Changing Health Care Marketplace Project, minority health, HIV, and women's health policy.
  • Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.
    Offers useful data and analysis on Medicaid demonstration programs, managed care, mental health parity, rural health care, long-term care, substance abuse, and the state-based Children's Health Insurance Program.
  • National Academy for State Health Policy
    A non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to excellence in state health policy and practice. Conducts policy analysis, provides training, and more.
  • National Health Policy Forum (NHPF)
    A bipartisan education and information exchange program primarily serving federal legislative and executive agency staff working in health care and related areas. Features information dissemination and discussion forum.
  • NYS Public Health Forum - New York State Dept. of Health
    Information and discussion forum from the New York State Department of Health.
  • Rand
    A nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decision making through research and analysis.
  • Urban Institute
    The Urban Institute is a nonprofit policy research organization in Washington, D.C. This page provides access to a number of online health-related press releases, periodicals, and publications.