Ten senators are trying to protect the budget of the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research in the wake of House action earlier this month that would cut the agency's funding by more than half.
The senators-including moderate Republicans James M. Jeffords of Vermont and William S. Cohen of Maine-sent a letter to Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations HHS subcommittee, asking that the AHCPR receive at least $163 million in funding in fiscal 1996, equal to its 1995 amount.
They argued that the AHCPR's work to identify cost-effective, high-quality treatment specifically for Medicare beneficiaries can help reduce the federal deficit.
"We are very heartened to hear this," said Lisa Simpson, the AHCPR's acting deputy administrator.
In a voice vote late in the debate on the HHS appropriations bill, the House approved an amendment that sliced $65.8 million from the $125.5 million AHCPR budget called for in the bill, reducing the budget to $59.7 million. The House diverted the money to education programs.
House Republicans characterized the AHCPR, part of HHS, as the "Agency for High Cost Publications and Research," objecting to costly research the agency has published.
They cited seemingly obvious conclusions in some of the research-such as a finding that "cardiologists know more about new heart attack treatments than primary-care doctors"-to support cuts.
But Simpson said "those statements were taken out of context and (were) a little bit misleading." He argued that in many cases, although the agency guidelines included findings that sounded obvious, no published research had been available to factually support some findings until the AHCPR completed its work.
Lawmakers supporting AHCPR cuts also argued that the agency's guideline development effort duplicates private sector initiatives and other federal activities.
But as Congress searches for ways to reduce Medicare cost growth without hurting the quality of care, Simpson said, the agency can assist Congress because part of its mission is to research better ways of caring for conditions that drive Medicare inflation.