In July 2012, appropriators in the House of Representatives proposed the termination of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). The move sent shockwaves through our community. Unlike the agency’s previous “near death experiences,” the termination was not precipitated by a controversy about the agency’s body of work. This time, it wasn’t about the science, per se. AHRQ was swept up in a broader effort to streamline the federal government in response to the challenging fiscal climate. Policymakers proposed this termination amid perceptions that AHRQ’s portfolio was duplicative of other health research agencies. AcademyHealth and our partners—both individual members and organizational affiliates—sprang into action, sending letters, blogging, and “tweeting” our objections. The effort never came to fruition. Congressional gridlock resulted in a continuing resolution for fiscal year 2013, which holds AHRQ and other federal funding at current levels. Nevertheless, the threat remains as real as ever. In fact, fiscal year 2014 is shaping up to be a repeat of the last. All intelligence we’ve received from Capitol Hill to date indicates that the House will propose AHRQ’s termination again. The Senate won’t. And the year will likely end with another stopgap spending bill(s) to maintain the status quo. Nonetheless, our field must remain vigilant in educating policymakers about AHRQ’s unique role in the federal research continuum and the value of health services research. AcademyHealth and our organizational affiliates have been visiting congressional offices as “Friends of AHRQ” to promote the agency’s efforts in discovering cures for the health system. AcademyHealth’s leadership—both current and former members of the Board of Directors and Committee on Advocacy and Public Policy—are prepping editorials to appear in local, beltway, and national publications in advance of legislation. In addition, AcademyHealth has enhanced collaboration with organizations in the social science community to thwart other indirect efforts that threaten our field—bans on health economics and political science, congressional micromanagement of peer review, and so on. In the coming weeks, AcademyHealth will have tools available on our website to help you engage in our efforts to protect AHRQ and health services research. Until then, here are some “to dos” to help you prepare:
- Join AcademyHealth’s Advocacy Interest Group. The Advocacy IG provides a forum to hone your skills for interacting with your elected officials. AcademyHealth members can join an interest group by updating their profile on my.academyhealth.org.
- Learn your Lawmakers. You can look up your lawmakers’ website through www.house.gov and www.senate.gov to learn more about their background and interests. While on their sites, sign up for their e-mail distribution lists to receive regular updates about their activities and learn when they plan to be in the district or state.
- Join Twitter and Follow, Facebook and Friend. Virtually all elected officials have social media accounts. By “friending” them on Facebook or following them on Twitter, you can communicate directly with lawmakers from your desktop, laptop, or handheld device! Once you sign up for Twitter, make sure you also follow @AcademyHealth.