In the name of science … all science
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Given the many strides we have made as a society over the years, it is sometimes easy to take our vibrant scientific field for granted. Yet scientific discoveries and breakthroughs – electricity, the Internet, the telephone (and the cell phone), penicillin, vaccinations, sanitation systems, and countless other inventions – have only been made possible by a common commitment to the support of scientific study.

Fortunately, later this month, individuals across our nation will come together to reaffirm that commitment and celebrate the role science plays in each of our lives during the March for Science. This event aims to promote the role of evidence in policymaking and to honor “research that gives us insight into the world.”

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As we celebrate science on April 22 and beyond, it is important for us to remember the role of all science housed within our federal research enterprise – everything from basic science to political science. Unfortunately, in Washington, not all science is created equal. As a policymaker, I have too often seen important social science overlooked and underfunded in favor of the physical and biomedical sciences. This is of great concern, because the social sciences better our understanding of the world and how best to live in it. I have seen this time and again, but particularly in a field known as health services research.

Health services research moves us from the discovery phase of science to the delivery phase. It determines how to get the right medications and treatments to the right patient at the right time. Housed at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), this life-saving, cost-cutting research is repeatedly targeted in Congress in the name of immediate cost savings. Despite its promise and already-proven improvements in the costs and quality of health care, I have colleagues each year who propose reducing or eliminating this agency entirely. In fact, last month, the president’s budget for fiscal year 2018 called for moving AHRQ’s research portfolio under the National Institutes of Health, an agency for which he proposed a $6 billion dollar cut.

While easy to fixate on short-term savings, Congress owes it to the American people to fund the critical work of the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality (AHRQ), for it touches us all.

Health services research improves the quality of care provided to children with asthma, the most common chronic illness in children, by developing tools that help hospitals create effective discharge protocols and that help families monitor their child’s asthma control and respond early, when needed.

Health services research is addressing the nation’s growing opioid epidemic by exploring and testing solutions for rural primary care practices to help those struggling with opioid abuse.

Health services research helps us fight heart disease, our nation’s leading cause of death. Through this research, we know minority populations experience higher rates of heart disease and have poorer access to quality of care.  It is also through this research that we understand how disparities manifest and how insurance providers can better target coverage options and prevention initiatives for populations in need. This research helps address the high costs associated with heart disease, which are largely preventable. 

As we grapple with myriad healthcare challenges in this country, we need dedicated research that improves healthcare quality, facilitates access to care, and controls healthcare costs. AHRQ is home to this research. It is AHRQ’s research that studies how medical findings reach healthcare providers and patients, regardless of where they work and live.  It is also AHRQ’s research that attempts to reduce unnecessary cost and waste while improving the quality of care – in particular, its efficiency, safety, accessibility and equitability.

While each medical discovery is a gift in and of itself, we need AHRQ’s health services research to tell us how to deploy these discoveries in the safest and most efficient and affordable manner possible.

As the March for Science draws near, my plea is for Americans – citizens and lawmakers alike – to remember the full span of research, including research empowering us with the information that helps us capitalize on the discoveries made thus far.

AHRQ and health services researchers work quietly in the background, but the impact of their work is powerful because it touches us all, making healthcare safer, more effective, and more affordable for all Americans. That the federal government funds this work – thereby ensuring that American taxpayers receive the most from each healthcare dollar – is common sense.

Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard represents California’s 40th Congressional District and has served in the House since 1993. She is a member of the Appropriations Committee.


The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.