We at AcademyHealth did not tread lightly into the month of March. Instead, we kicked off the month by taking to the halls of Congress for Hill visits to speak with lawmakers about the importance of health services research.

Each year, as part of our efforts to support and build the field of health services research, I make the rounds to several offices on Capitol Hill as part of AcademyHealth’s advocacy and educational efforts. After all, for lawmakers to fund health services research they need to be aware of its role in the federal research continuum and in improving health and health care in this country. We meet with both House and Senate staff serving on the Appropriations Committees and on the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) Subcommittees and representing constituents everywhere from Washington to Michigan and Mississippi to Oklahoma.

During those meetings we answer congressional staffers' questions, confer about how federally funded health services research may help carry out some of the members’ key policy priorities, discuss the types of research supported by each of the key federal research agencies, and determine where AcademyHealth and the members we represent may be able to assist them in their efforts. The relationships formed during these meetings are critical, with each policymaker being a potential champion for this critical life- and money-saving work.

We were very pleased with this year’s meetings. We had the opportunity to meet with staff for members who are brand new to the committees in the House and Senate who decide on the budget for the Department of Health and Human Services (colloquially called Labor-H) and others who have been working on health services research issues for years. As far as takeaways, a common theme we heard was just how difficult the budget environment will be this year, and that the budget for Labor-H in particular will be challenging given the hyper-partisanship of today’s political environment. There remains an opportunity and need for constituents to raise the visibility of health services research – and the agencies that fund it – with their respective members of Congress. Those we spoke with appreciated hearing from AcademyHealth, but note that it is helpful for staff to know how this research is positively shaping health and health care “at home.” Visits to the home districts are always a good idea.

Members of the Friends of AHRQ on Hill Visits

Among our many meetings was one for the Friends of AHRQ (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality) with House Labor-HHS Chairman Cole’s office. During that meeting, we spoke specifically about the importance and role of AHRQ, the only federal agency with a congressional mandate to conduct health services research. Several representatives from the Friends in attendance were able to discuss how their respective associations and members use AHRQ’s research, tools, and datasets to carry out their work throughout the health care system.

AcademyHealth will now be watchfully waiting for the president’s budget brief, expected to be released this month. An article in The Hill last month said the Trump administration will propose increasing defense spending by $54 billion and cutting non-defense spending by the same amount. Regardless, we stand ready to defend and champion health services research. We do not expect the March budget to include many details, and it may be May before we can share the specific budget numbers proposed for AHRQ and other key agencies.

One of my greatest privileges as president and CEO of AcademyHealth is the opportunity to represent you, our members – who are making strides each day to help us better understand and improve our health care system – in visits with members of Congress and congressional staff. It is an honor to speak about how health services research is revolutionizing the way we see and respond to health care challenges and opportunities, and I am constantly energized by the promise and impact of your work.

I hope you will continue to share with us how your work may stand to shape health policy – whether at the local, state, or federal level. We are your voice in Washington! We also know many of you are looking for ways to become involved, and we are working to develop the tools for you to do so. Please stay tuned!

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