AHRQ's friends are calling for funding boost
■ The effort comes in response to a Bush administration proposal to freeze the agency's 2005 budget at current levels.
By Andis Robeznieks — Posted April 12, 2004
A coalition of 130 medical, academic and business organizations is asking Congress to increase funding for the government agency responsible for finding ways to improve patient safety and health care quality.
The Bush Administration's budget for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality freezes 2005 spending at 2004 levels -- just under $303.7 million. The Friends of AHRQ coalition, which includes the AMA, is lobbying congressional leaders to push that to $443 million to provide more money for research into patient safety, health care costs, translating research into practice and implementing suggestions in the Institute of Medicine's "Crossing the Quality Chasm" report.
"The phrase 'health services research' is about as unsexy as you can get, but the more you understand the complexity of the health care system, the more you understand the need for health services research," said Michael Chernew, PhD, associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and editor of the American Journal of Managed Care.
The coalition's $443 million request includes $53 million for comparative studies as part of the Medicare Modernization Act. The legislation calls upon AHRQ to conduct these studies but didn't provide funding for them.
According to AHRQ spokeswoman Karen Migdail, money will not be taken from other research activities to pay for the Medicare studies, and these studies will not begin until Congress hands over the money.
"It's authorization without appropriation, and the appropriation will be a trigger for action," she said. "The authorization signals intent, but until the appropriation comes through, AHRQ won't go forward with the effort."
Although the agency's total '05 budget is the same as this year's, Migdail noted that an additional $4.5 million has been requested for patient safety research funding, boosting the total amount in this area to $84 million.
Johns Hopkins University Public Health Professor Donald Steinwachs, PhD, chairs the Coalition of Health Services Research, which staffs and coordinates Friends of AHRQ activities. He is calling for a tripling of AHRQ's budget so the agency can do more studies on health care cost containment and chronic care issues.
"There's a crying demand for change in health care systems, but we don't always agree on where and what change is needed," he said. "Research helps us make these decisions."