House draft budget would eliminate AHRQ

Other health IT agencies could see steep cuts
By Mike Miliard
04:40 PM
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The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is currently funded to the tune of about $440 million for fiscal year 2015. If the House Appropriations Committee has its way, that funding will vanish in FY16.

[See also: AHRQ aims to boost heart health]

Part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, AHRQ supports research to improve healthcare quality and outcomes. That includes studies on health information technology, patient safety, disease prevention, care management and more.

Just this week, for instance, AHRQ announced plans to fund three centers of excellence across the country to better understand how high-performing health systems drive evidence-based care delivery.

[See also: AHRQ awards $4.5M for clinical preventive services research centers]

The three grants, which will begin in September, would provide some $52 million over five years to study how complex delivery systems disseminate evidence-based findings and draw lessons from them.

"New evidence is valuable only if it is used," said AHRQ director Richard Kronick. "We expect this effort will give us a better understanding of how successful health care delivery systems disseminate new evidence so we can enable the rapid adoption of best practices throughout the health care system and improve patient outcomes."

But in the draft FY16 Labor, Health and Human Services funding bill released June 16 by the House Appropriations Committee, AHRQ has been left out in the cold. Effective Oct. 1, 2015, the agency would be "terminated" if the legislation were to pass.

"This legislation continues our efforts to reduce wasteful spending, to stop harmful and unnecessary regulations that kill jobs and impede economic growth, and to make wise investments in proven programs on behalf of the American taxpayer," said Hal Rogers, chair of the appropriations committee.

Predictably, there's been an outcry in the health IT community, with the hashtag #SaveAHRQ proliferating on Twitter.

"Health IT improves quality," wrote one healthcare industry lobbyist, pointed to the work AHRQ is doing "to implement effective population health practice."

"Cutting funding to AHRQ would be a huge mistake in our mission to improve the quality & efficiency of healthcare," wrote one surgeon.

"High-value care relies on AHRQ's innovative and high-impact research," tweeted another physician. "Save AHRQ."

"Don't defund programs that supply evidence for policy making," wrote a public health professional. "Penny wise, pound foolish this Congress."

Indeed, as the Coalition for Health Funding pointed out on Twitter, "AHRQ only represents .01 percent of all healthcare spending yet saves much more."

Of course, there's a lot of legislating left to do before any of this comes to pass, but two other health IT-focused agencies with a mandate to drive innovation in quality and efficiency would also be targeted in the new budget: the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation and the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute would see funding reduced by $6.8 billion and $100 million, respectively.

Both groups were created as part of the Affordable Care Act. Both, apparently are in the crosshairs of a bill its sponsors say will "roll back harmful Obamacare provisions (and) cut wasteful spending."

Meanwhile, the budget for the Office of the National Coordinator would sit tight at $60.4 million, according to the draft budget – but still much less than the $91.8 million requested by the White House.

Read the draft bill here.