Date: August 5th, 2015
The United States spends nearly 18 percent of its GDP on health care. With the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population comprised of those 80 and older, and many of these Americans aging with between three and five chronic conditions, finding new ways to get the most out of every health care dollar is essential to our nation’s long-term fiscal health. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) is the federal agency whose sole purpose is to improve the health care system. It does this by funding research focused on achieving the best possible care for patients, maximizing efficiency, reducing waste, and identifying incentives to optimize care.
A 2014 report released by AHRQ showed that hospital care alone was markedly safer and cheaper than just three years prior, in part because of knowledge gained through AHRQ-supported research. Between 2010 and 2013, there were 1.3 million fewer harms to patients, 50,000 lives saved, and a $12 billion reduction in health care costs. With results like these that were achieved in such a short time period, it is puzzling why Congress has put AHRQ in jeopardy of losing its funding.
In June of this year the House Appropriations Committee passed the House Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) Appropriations spending bill for fiscal year (FY) 2016. The bill terminates AHRQ. The Senate Appropriations Committee subsequently approved a separate FY 2016 Labor-HHS bill; while it does not eliminate AHRQ, it reduces the agency’s funding by 35 percent. These bills may or may not come to the House and Senate floors for a vote, but Congress will eventually pass final FY 2016 appropriations legislation. As they negotiate a compromise on FY 2016 funding this fall, it is critical that members of Congress know the elimination of AHRQ or a significant reduction in funding will be detrimental to all of us.
A major priority of AHRQ in FY 2016 is to launch a new initiative on multiple chronic conditions. The purpose of the initiative is to target the poor outcomes and high costs people with multiple chronic conditions experience as a result of often fragmented, inefficient, and ineffective care. AHRQ would devote funding to provide clinicians with evidence-based tools to develop integrated care plans that comprehensively reflect patients’ health conditions, values, preferences, and relevant life circumstances. Additional resources would be spent on collecting and analyzing nationally representative data to examine the impact of integrated care plans and new Affordable Care Act (ACA) care delivery models on health care utilization and the quality of care provided to people with multiple chronic conditions.
In FY 2016 AHRQ will also undertake a Health Insurance Evidence Initiative that examines how changes in health insurance benefit packages impact health care utilization, costs, and outcomes. The goal is to understand how health plans can be redesigned to maximize health status and quality and reduce unnecessary costs. In addition to new initiatives, FY 2016 funding priorities include programs that AHRQ established and maintains to identify the risks and hazards that lead to medical errors; prevent patient injury associated with the delivery of care; promote antibiotic stewardship; improve substance abuse treatment; increase health care accessibility and value; and accelerate the dissemination of patient-centered outcomes research. None of this will continue if AHRQ is eliminated.
The Alliance for Aging Research has already joined with 250 other organizations in support of health services research funded by AHRQ. We collectively called on Congress to provide AHRQ with the $364 million in budget authority necessary to undertake all of its planned FY 2016 activities. We continue to emphasize the unique contributions of this agency. You can help by contacting your elected officials in Washington and back home in their congressional districts to tell them that you care about the important research and data supported by AHRQ. Visit the House and Senate websites to find your elected officials. In the upper, right-hand corner on both websites, you are able to search for your members of Congress using your zip code. If you engage in social media, you can join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #SaveAHRQ.
The “Silver Tsunami” of age-associated chronic diseases is fast approaching. Right now, AHRQ is an ark that can help us ride the wave of increasing health care costs. Supporting AHRQ will ensure that we have the information needed to solve the problems facing our health care system. In the end AHRQ may transform health care before the tsunami hits us with full force.