Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality a potential casualty of Trump budget cuts

Funding for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality may be eliminated under President Donald Trump's budget proposal.

Misunderstanding about the role of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality within the federal government may lead to its demise.

The federal agency takes the lead on improving safety and quality of the nation's healthcare system, developing tools and data to help providers and consumers make informed health decisions. It has played a critical role in funding research devoted to health IT.

But the agency’s independent status may be coming to an end if President Donald Trump’s proposed budget is approved. The administration wants to merge it with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which also faces a $5.8 billion cut in funding.

AHRQ takes a hard look at healthcare costs and makes sure medical practice is evidence-based and not motivated by financial interests. But Republicans argue the agency’s work is duplicative and wasteful, noted STAT.

In defense of the administration’s consolidation plan, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said during a budget hearing Wednesday the changes would improve efficiency while continuing to fulfill the agency’s mission.

RELATED: At House hearing, Price defends NIH cuts and offers few details on plans for ACA

But supporters of AHRQ believe that lawmakers don’t completely understand the role of the agency and that the proposal is short-sighted, according to STAT. The agency looks at the effectiveness of healthcare practices, such as identifying strategies to reduce medical errors and hospital-acquired conditions.

Lisa Simpson, chief executive of Academy Health, a healthcare research organization, told the publication that although it is well-known and respected within the scientific community, AHRQ lacks the visibility of larger agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the NIH.

“When you think about how many taxpayer dollars are spent to pay for healthcare under any scenario—Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP—to not invest a tiny amount of money to understand how to improve the quality of care seems so ill-advised and shortsighted,” Simpson told STAT.

And though the proposal is a threat to the agency’s future, it could be beneficial if it’s reorganized under the right conditions, wrote Andrew Bindman, M.D., in a blog post for Health Affairs. Bindman is a professor of medicine, epidemiology & biostatistics, and an affiliated faculty member within the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies at the University of California, San Francisco.

Perhaps, he said, the AHRQ could lead efforts on how to prioritize the allocation of resources for practice-based research and implementation science available through the NIH and other federal investments.