New Legislation Would Standardize Health Data Reporting

Published: August 26, 2020

CDCHHSHealth ITPolicy and Legislation

In the wake of concern over the change in health data reporting from CDC to HHS directly, House lawmakers introduced the bipartisan Health Standards to Advance Transparency, Integrity, Science, Technology Infrastructure, and Confidential Statistics Act of 2020 (Health STATISTICS Act) late last week.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Health STATISTICS Act would standardize health data reporting by public health departments, labs and hospitals.
  • The bill would also promote data sharing and expanded research capacity.
  • The act would provide funding in the form of grants for modernizing reporting systems and implementing data protection.

The bill was introduced on Friday by Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA), Rep. Lucy McBath (D-GA), Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-18) and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), and would amend the Public Health Service Act, which outlines HHS’s legal authority to respond to public health emergencies.

To date, the U.S. does not have a standardized national, state, county or city-level public health data reporting system, which is necessary to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and future health emergencies. The lack of standardized data significantly slows the government’s ability to measure the true scope of the outbreak and formulate responses.

The bill comes after a mid-July change in process ordered by the administration directing hospitals to report their coronavirus data to a database procured by HHS instead of to the CDC, which was the traditional process. This change drew concern from lawmakers and other experts that it could potentially compromise data integrity.

The proposed legislation would standardize reporting, by directing state and local health departments to adopt uniform criteria for submitting data to the CDC. The act also proposes use of interoperable systems, establishes a working group to provide recommendations, and institutes COVID–19 high-priority standards and data sharing.

The legislation directs OMB to issue guidance on federal health data information collection to reduce public reporting burden, ensure information quality, improve use of determinants of health data, and enhance access to health data for evidence-building activities.

The bill allows the HHS National Center for Health Statistics to issue grants or cooperative agreements to public health reporting entities to modernize systems for reporting and data sharing, and to implement data protection.

Finally, the Act directs HHS to expand data linkage to facilitate research. It instructs CDC to provide financial assistance to research entities and public health departments to establish, expand, or enhance capacity for conducting statistical public health research.

In a press release regarding the proposed legislation, Rep. Peters stated, “Efforts to combat this crisis [COVID-19] are heavily stifled by our country’s lack of a cohesive, consolidated data system. We don’t have the granular data we need to strategically fight the virus or understand the unique risks and effects of COVID-19 on vulnerable populations. Our bill would ensure vital information often missing from current reports, such as race or mortality data, is collected and shared accordingly so that patterns can be found and relief can be more rapidly deployed.”