This morning’s congressional staff panel was, as it always is, one of our favorite sessions here at the National Health Policy Conference. The bipartisan representation and off-the-record format create an opportunity for relatively frank feedback from people on the front lines of the national health policy debate. And while we can’t tell you who said what (you’ll have to come next year for that!), we did want to highlight an important and timely theme – the urgent and pressing need for the health services research and policy analysis community to speak up and speak out about the value of research, the evidence we bring to bear on hot policy issues, and our individual and collective priorities for how we spend our health care dollars. Sequester and debt ceiling discussions notwithstanding, panelists agreed that researcher feedback was important and valued and that input from constituents was an important input in evaluating different policy options. “Research matters – a lot” Whether we’re talking about entitlement reform or funding for prevention, the choices our elected representatives make are driven by their values and the values of their constituents. In a tough fiscal environment, that becomes even more true, as spending in one area necessitates cutting in another. Providing research and perspective about the impact of various choices on the quality and value of health care is both helpful and necessary to the process. Panelists indicated that the research our community offers provides a foundation for conversation with stakeholders and at times, a reality check on what solutions can actually be implemented. More importantly, our work can be vitally important in educating members about complex issues and options. Where research can make an impact right now Some of the areas where the panelists suggested research and constituent feedback could be most valuable now include:

  • Strategies for maximizing the efficiency of Medicare and Medicaid;
  • Options for implementing the Affordable Care Act that will help drive down costs and drive up quality;
  • Insights on how to address mental health issues – e.g., what interventions are the most promising;
  • Vigorous research and evaluation around the impact of community prevention on public health;
  • Insights on quality measure development;
  • Suggestions for addressing fraud, waste and abuse in Medicare and Medicaid;
  • Ideas for post-acute care reform; and
  • Options to reform the Medicare Wage Index.
Making the case for research AcademyHealth President and CEO Lisa Simpson used the Q&A session as an opportunity to ask the panel about the 2012 attempt to defund AHRQ and the agency’s future. While the panelists wouldn’t speculate about the future, they did use the question to drive home the importance of having a base of support for our priorities. In essence, we heard clearly that the future of AHRQ will be determined in part by the ability of its supporters to explain and defend its unique contribution to our health care system. In related remarks, one panelist noted that we are having a very public debate about the budget, but it is a vague discussion in many ways. As a community of researchers, policy analysts and individuals committed to improving health and health care, we need to be making a case for these investments in our local communities. We also need to change the terms of the debate – talking about choices and priorities with an eye toward explaining how tax dollars spent on research or prevention deliver a return that is different - and may be preferable - to a dollar spent elsewhere.   Getting involved Every voice matters and decisions don’t just happen in Washington. The panelists today emphasized the need for the NHPC attendees to carry messages home to their communities, to contact their senators and representatives, and take their case to local papers, town hall meetings and other public discussions.  We couldn’t agree more. If you’d like to learn more about advocacy and public policy, AcademyHealth’s Advocacy Interest Group is a great place to start. Join here.