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Senate Labor HHS Funding Bill Devastates Health Services Research in a Pandemic

AcademyHealth is deeply disappointed by the counterproductive and devastating 24 percent cut to AHRQ in the Senate’s FY21 Labor-HHS bill.

AcademyHealth is deeply disappointed by the counterproductive and devastating 24 percent cut to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) proposed in the Senate’s FY 21 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) funding bill. At a time when the Senate needs to help lead America through this ongoing public health crisis, the Labor-HHS bill is deeply insufficient.

As the professional home for individuals and organizations that produce and use health services research to make health care less complex and costly, we question the wisdom to cut health services research funding at a time when this work is most critically needed by patients, health care providers, and policymakers alike.  We urge the Senate to revisit this issue and act to ensure sufficient and stable funding for AHRQ as it works with the House to finalize spending bills this year.

AHRQ supports research to improve health care quality, reduce costs, advance patient safety, decrease medical errors, and broaden access to essential services. As the lead federal agency for funding health services research, AHRQ is the bridge between cures and care, and ensures that Americans get the best health care at the best value. While the nation spends $3 trillion annually on health care, it is counter-productive to hamstring the only federal agency charged with identifying, testing, and promoting strategies that lead to higher-quality health care and addressing health care costs system-wide.

Today, AHRQ’s mission is even more critical. The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed a quarter of a million lives and sickened over 10 million Americans this year, and is widely projected to spike further in the coming months. It has laid bare the deep racial, ethnic, and economic inequities in health care as people of color and working-class Americans are disproportionately being infected, suffering worse outcomes, and dying from this disease. The pandemic is a mass-casualty event unfolding across the country daily, and it is hurting those most under-served by our health infrastructure. Protecting Americans requires the health care system quickly learning and adapting so that we can provide high-value care where and when it is needed.

AHRQ has the proven track record of creating pipelines of new medical findings reaching health care providers and patients, and providing them with the tools and training they need every day, and now is the time to support these efforts, not hinder them. Whether it is identifying if the explosion of telehealth has had positive health outcomes to ensuring that a future COVID-19 vaccine can be equitably distributed, now is the time to stand strong with researchers, practitioners, and patients and provide AHRQ with the funding that it needs, which is at least $500 million for FY21.

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