House bill would jettison AHRQ funding

The Agency for Health Research and Quality (AHRQ) – whose mission is to improve the quality, safety, efficiency and effectiveness of American healthcare – would be de-funded under a bill approved July 18 by the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee. The bill would cut $1.3 billion from the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS).

Cleared by an 8 to 6 vote, the Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS) bill would effectively prohibit any federal funding of patient-centered outcomes research, which is conducted by AHRQ. Other provisions of the bill include withdrawing funding from the prevention fund incorporated in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Discretionary funding in the amount of $150 billion is included within the cleared bill, $6.4 billion below last year’s amount.

Proponents of the drafted bill say the included cuts target unnecessary, ineffective or lower-priority programs.

“This legislation reflects our strong commitment to reduce over-regulation and unnecessary, ineffective spending that feeds the nation’s deficits and hampers economic growth,” said House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) in a July 17 press release. “A careful look was given to all programs and agencies in the bill, with the budget knife aimed at excess spending and underperforming programs, but also with the goal of making wise investments in programs that help the American people the most,” Rogers continued.

Subcomittee Chairman Denny Rehberg (R-MT) told POLITICO the decision to cut AHRQ funding all came down to the budget. “It’s not a reflection on anything other than that we’re just trying to bring our fiscal house back in order.”

Other groups say that the bill may appear penny-wise but would prove to be pound-foolish.

“Terminating the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, as House appropriators propose, would badly undermine important research on healthcare quality, disparities in care and patient safety -- research that benefits our nation's most vulnerable people,” said Bruce Siegel, MD, chair of AHRQ’s National Advisory Council, speaking on behalf of the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems, of which he's president and CEO.

“AHRQ’s budget is a rounding error in the federal budget,” Siegel continued.

One of the most invaluable of AHRQ’s initiatives, according to Siegel, is Project RED (Re-Engineered Hospital Discharge), a randomized control trial developed at Boston Medical Center that re-engineered workflows and reduced preventable patient readmissions. “Hospital readmissions are a big issue for all American healthcare,” said Siegel. “Project RED could save American taxpayers billions of dollars in years. That’s the kind of work AHRQ does, and that’s the kind of work we need today.”

One of 12 agencies within HHS, AHRQ was founded in 1989. Originally created as the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, it was renamed AHRQ in 1999. The agency funds and conducts research related to patient safety, health information technology, the effectiveness of specific medical treatments, prevention and care management and healthcare value.

AHRQ had no official comment.

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