Earlier today, the House Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies posted its fiscal 2019 spending bill.

The bill as written holds funding for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) at 2018 levels, increases funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and proposes cuts to the Health Resources and Services Administration and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. While we appreciate the Committee’s commitment to fund AHRQ, in particular, well above the President’s budget request, AcademyHealth remains concerned that sustained flat funding at AHRQ will compound persistent challenges in delivering high-quality health care services, limit our ability to realize the promise of innovations in biomedical and clinical research, and fail to address rising health costs.

Federally funded health services research is a critical link in the nation’s commitment to health research that ensures we can deliver on the promise of basic and clinical research. It provides the evidence we need to understand how different interventions work for different patients in different settings. In failing to adequately support this important research, Congress will make it harder for health care delivery organizations, policymakers, and the people they serve to make informed choices about how to get the best, safest care while addressing costs and protecting patient safety.

Failure to fully fund health services research also limits our ability to realize the true value of our investments in clinical and biomedical research, including the $1.25 billion in new funding currently slated for NIH. Health services research helps translate this important work into real world settings – how will the system deliver these innovations, how will we ensure access to new interventions among the patients who need them, and how will the Federal government, the largest purchaser of health care services in the nation, pay for them in an efficient and sustainable way?

We’re already seeing the negative effects of more than a decade of flat or reduced funding for AHRQ, most recently and directly in the elimination of the National Guideline Clearinghouse, and in 2016 through the termination of the agency’s portfolio aimed at optimizing care for patients with multiple chronic conditions. This bill locks these losses in place and further imperils important, life-saving research.

As an advocate for the health services and policy research community and all the users of their findings in the public and private sectors, AcademyHealth is disappointed with the proposed funding level for AHRQ. We recognize that Congress is under extreme pressure to fund competing priorities whilst doing its best to keep the federal budget in check, but reducing our ability to make health care safer, less complex and less costly is a move in the wrong direction.

While funding for all health research is crucial, AcademyHealth believes that health services research is uniquely capable of helping the nation address the rising costs of health care and transform how we approach health and health care in this country. Every cut reduces our capacity to ensure patient safety, address waste and inefficiency, and ensure access groundbreaking treatments and prevention.

AcademyHealth will be following appropriations developments in the House and Senate closely, and stands ready to act on behalf of our members and the field. As we look to the future, we look not only to sustain adequate funding for AHRQ, but to save the critical health services research that can measurably improve health and health care in the nation.

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