On June 24, 2015, by way of a 30-21 vote, the House Appropriations Committee passed the House Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) Appropriations Subcommittee’s fiscal year (FY) 2016 spending bill. Among the many assaults on public health and health research (e.g., slashing mandatory funding for patient-centered outcomes research by $100 million and banning the use of discretionary funds on this research and cutting $6.2 billion from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation), the bill ‘terminated’ the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) – the only agency with the sole mission of conduction health services research, the research that tells us what works, for whom, under what circumstances, and at what cost.

Two days later, on June 26, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 16-14 to approve the Senate Labor-HHS Subcommittee’s bill. The Committee provided AHRQ $236,000,000 in budget authority, a 35 percent reduction from FY15 levels.

Initiation of the #SaveAHRQ Campaign

When news of the House’s proposed move to terminate AHRQ dropped, AcademyHealth commenced #SaveAHRQ – a campaign that involved alerting AcademyHealth, the Friends of AHRQ and others in the health services research community; creating noise via social media; pushing constituent communication with elected officials through the civic engagement platform POPVOX; circulating sign-on letters; and showing AHRQ’s relevance through op-eds, blog posts, and other articles in the media.

The #SaveAHRQ campaign received unprecedented response from the research community. From the launch of the campaign through the passage of the FY16 appropriations package on December 18, #SaveAHRQ:

  • Generated 2,510 Tweets;
  • Received more than 7,318,000 impressions; and
  • Involved more than 1,000 unique participants.

Many of those numbers were generated during AcademyHealth’s #SaveAHRQ Tweet Day on November 17, when AHRQ stakeholders Tweeted throughout the day about the importance of AHRQ using the designated hashtag. The Tweet Day—and embedded Tweet Chat—generated more than 2,830 impressions and nearly 900 Tweets from 370 participants. A Storify of the day can be found here.

Highlights from the #SaveAHRQ Campaign

The #SaveAHRQ campaign successfully highlighted the importance of the agency in the current fiscal environment. Members of the health community collectively spoke to why AHRQ plays an irreplaceable role in making the care we and our loved ones receive safer and more effective. The noise made by AHRQ supporters extended far beyond Tweets; the agency received extraordinary coverage in the media and in letters to appropriators, and Senator Blumenthal circulated the first ever ‘Dear Colleague’ letter in support of AHRQ in the Senate.

And now to review the many highpoints of this initiative:

Overall, people made noise.

AcademyHealth provided resources to make that noise possible.

And the Friends of AHRQ remained strong, vocal advocates.

The coalition’s final letters to the House and Senate received 197 signatures, an increase of more than 350 percent.

Where We Are Now

The final FY16 spending package, which was signed into law by the president on December 18, 2015, provided AHRQ $334,000,000 in budget authority, down from $364 million in FY15. This represents a cut of approximately 8.2 percent. 

All things considered, AcademyHealth and the Friends of AHRQ are pleased with this outcome and the efforts of all those involved. AcademyHealth’s statement on the omnibus can be found here.

AHRQ survived this battle, but it’s critical that the community continue to speak up for the agency in this broader funding war. We heard directly from appropriators that these efforts made a significant impact, but were also told that this same level of energy would have been extremely helpful in February, when policymakers were writing appropriations legislation. Therefore, those invested in the agency’s survival should make a point to raise its importance in meetings with congressional staff as well as to continue signing letters requesting future funding and writing op-eds, blog posts, and articles that showcase the difference the agency is making in real lives, today.

AcademyHealth is here as your resource. If we can be of assistance, please contact our advocacy team.