Trump administration appoints new AHRQ director
Gopal Khanna has been tapped as the new director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, according to an email Tuesday from the agency's acting director Dr. Sharon Arnold.
The AHRQ, which has a budget of $470 million this year, supports research that improves affordability and quality of healthcare services.
Khanna's appointment likely signals that the AHRQ won't be consolidated with the National Institutes of Health — at least for now.
President Donald Trump proposed in his recent budget to merge the agency with the National Institutes of Health, which was supposed to get a 20% budget cut until Congress stepped in and boosted its funding by $2 billion.
"My initial read is that this is a really positive turn of events," said Ellie Dehoney, vice president of policy and advocacy at Research!America, a not-for-profit organization that advocates for more government funding for health research. "Hopefully this means they will give AHRQ its own spot."
Republicans have frequently called for major cuts or total elimination of the AHRQ. A budget proposal for 2016 by the House proposed removing the AHRQ, arguing the work it does is duplicative of other HHS agencies.
Dehoney said Khanna will likely be tasked with looking for ways to improve the efficiency of the AHRQ and possibly restructure it. This could mean that the AHRQ will ultimately merge with the NIH, but that move could also be positive if done appropriately, she said. "If there is alignment with research and ... appropriate investments, it can work as part of the NIH."
Khanna was most recently director since June 2015 of the Illinois Healthcare and Human Services Innovation Incubator, an initiative spearheaded by Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican. In that role, Khanna collaborated with other state and federal health agencies to aggregate patient data to better understand the population and efficiency of care.
Prior to that, Khanna was the state of Minnesota's first chief information officer. He also held various positions within George W. Bush's administration. He was chief financial officer of the Executive Office of the President as well as the chief information and chief financial officer of the Peace Corps during Bush's second term.
Research organizations supported Khanna's appointment, highlighting his background in health IT and patient data. AcademyHealth said in a statement that Khanna "has demonstrated his commitment to the critical role of using data and evidence to improve health and healthcare."
The Association of American Medical Colleges said in a statement it "looks forward to working with Khanna to preserve and enhance AHRQ's important work."
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