As the professional society for health services and policy research, AcademyHealth works year-round with Hill staff and partners to attempt to secure and maintain funding for federal health research entities, including the lead agency for health services research, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). As part of these efforts, we reach out to our membership at various points during the year for help making calls, writing, or Tweeting their elected officials to make that same case. After all, the people from whom Hill staffers want to hear most are the people 'back home.'
As we enter the peak of appropriations season—when congressional staff meet with constituents, agency officials, lobbyists, and other stakeholders to prepare to draft and approve legislation for the following fiscal year—it is critically important that the field asserts its funding priorities with those on Capitol Hill. Funding levels remain tight, and lawmakers are weighing priorities as you read this. Without a clear signal that health services research is important to lawmakers' respective constituents, sustained, adequate funding for the field is at risk.
What can you really do with a Tweet? You can #SaveAHRQ.
Yet, even as we work to mobilize our grassroots (in this case, the health services research community), we sometimes receive pushback with the question, "Is one Tweet really going to make a difference in the grand scheme of things?" Our answer to this is a resounding 'YES!' and our #SaveAHRQ efforts during the last six months of 2015 prove the power of it.
This same time last year (i.e., peak appropriations season 2015), those who care about AHRQ and its vitally important research, tools, and datasets did not join us in congressional visits, did not tell appropriators why it's important that the government fund AHRQ, and did not express these views on social media—and there were serious consequences. In the House and Senate appropriations legislation for fiscal year (FY) 2016, AHRQ saw its budget eliminated and reduced by 35 percent, respectively. AcademyHealth responded swiftly to the release of those spending bills, leading the charge to tell our appropriators that AHRQ helps Americans get their money's worth when it comes to health care; we need more of this research, not less.
Through a multi-faceted campaign that involved a #SaveAHRQ Tweet Day, an op-ed campaign, a political engagement writing platform, and more, the health services research community responded to the threat in an unprecedented way. People noticed.
When word of the threat to AHRQ spread on social media—with the campaign generating more than 2,000 Tweets and 7,000,000 impressions—members of the media and policymakers became aware of AHRQ in a way they weren't before. AHRQ in the context of FY16 appropriations was cited in two dozen media articles, in outlets including ModernHealthcare, HealthLeaders Media, Huffington Post, Science, NPR's Shots, The Hill, CQ Roll Call, and Forbes. Furthermore, Senator Blumenthal championed AHRQ as the author of the first-ever 'Dear Colleague' letter circulated on its behalf.
This coverage and support was due in large part to the coordinated efforts of the community led by AcademyHealth, and made more visible by the #SaveAHRQ campaign's success on social media.
Don't let this happen again.
Even with all the success of the 2015 #SaveAHRQ campaign, AcademyHealth heard directly from congressional appropriations staff that this same level of effort would have been valuable in February/March, in the lead-up to drafting appropriations legislation. In fact, more noise in the spring could have prevented, or at least mitigated the funding cuts proposed last summer. Put simply, the relative silence from the community in appropriations season put AHRQ at risk, and a failure to speak up now could create more problems in 2017/2018.
Policymakers need to know what their constituents care about and how this funding can be used to make a real difference in the lives of individuals and families 'at home.' While AcademyHealth is ready and able to speak for the field, members of the health services research community also play an important role in putting a human face on the many ways health services research can advance health and health care in our country. Being an advocate doesn't require lobbying; speaking up for the field is about educating policymakers about what health services research is, why it's important, and how this work can positively change the trajectory of health care in this country.
We need our community to speak up, right now, about the value of AHRQ and other critical health services research functions, and we're here to help.
Don't miss this critical window of opportunity to make your voice heard. Contact your member of Congress and tell them that funding for health services research helps make care less complex and costly. Share your work to save your work.
AcademyHealth welcomes the opportunity to connect our leading experts with their members of Congress. If you are an AcademyHealth member and making a trip to Washington, D.C. this month, email our advocacy team to find out if you are from a key district, and we may be able to arrange some meetings on your behalf.