CDC would become central point for pandemic data under new House bill

The David J. Sencer CDC Museum in Atlanta, Ga. (CDC photo)

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would be responsible for standardizing data reporting by public health departments, labs and hospitals under legislation introduced by a bipartisan group of House members.

Bill sponsors say the goal of the The Health STATISTICS Act is to fix inconsistencies in data reporting and collection about the coronavirus pandemic, while preparing for the next major public health crisis. The CDC would set data and technology standards, as well as introduce common reporting criteria for any high-priority data elements it seeks.

The Department of Health and Human Services would be required to share any collected health data with the CDC and other public health agencies in a timely fashion while protecting patient privacy.

The bill comes after the Trump administration had CDC remove its National Healthcare Safety Network COVID-19 module from the federal process for collecting hospital coronavirus data, in favor of a TeleTracking Technologies database procured by HHS. Current and former members of the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee subsequently criticized the move for potentially compromising data integrity.

“We must do all we can to save American lives, and ensuring that public health data is standardized and accessible is fundamental in that fight,” said U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., one of the bill’s sponsors, in the Friday announcement. “By improving data standards and integration, our public health agencies can better mitigate the effects of COVID-19 and prevent future pandemics.”

Prior to the U.S. confirming its first coronavirus case, McBath introduced legislation in December to modernize public health data systems and improve pandemic preparedness. She subsequently criticized the Trump administration’s decision to bypass the CDC and have HHS collect coronavirus data from hospitals.

Now McBath joins Reps. Scott Peters, D-Calif., Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., in proposing a bill to improve access to the data needed to respond to the pandemic while standardizing it across public health departments, labs and hospitals.

The bill would also boost data infrastructure regionally by having the CDC create a grant program for public health departments to modernize and expand their systems.

“Efforts to combat this crisis are heavily stifled by our country’s lack of a cohesive, consolidated data system,” Peters said in a statement. “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.”

Data often missing from reports, like race or mortality information, would be required, he added.

The bill would fill gaps that prevent public health officials from understanding and acting on the pandemic, said Nancy Potok, former U.S. chief statistician, in a statement.

“Those gaps may have cost us millions of dollars and thousands of lives,” Potok said. “If the key provisions of this bill had been enacted and implemented before the pandemic hit, we would have been much better prepared as a nation to have the timely, relevant information needed to act quickly and effectively at all levels of government.”

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Anna Eshoo, Brian Fitzpatrick, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, coronavirus, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Lucy McBath, Nancy Potok, Scott Peters
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