Congress ensured of millions of dollars will go toward public health data system modernization over the next five years, as part of the $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill passed Monday night.
The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology would receive $62.4 million in fiscal 2021 to develop and advance interoperable systems, if the bill is enacted, as expected, in the next couple of weeks.
The relief bill would further appropriate $100 million every fiscal year for the next five years for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to award grants to health departments, labs and providers modernizing their systems.
Efforts to track the coronavirus‘ spread have been hampered by a lack of interoperability between federal and state and local public health department, laboratory and care provider systems. Public health experts say those problems must be fixed so they don’t linger during future pandemics.
Grantees under the CDC program would have to prove their projects do one of the following:
- Assess health data infrastructure capabilities and gaps to improve and increase collection, storage, analysis and dissemination.
- Improve secure health data collection, transmission, exchange, maintenance and analysis;
- improving secure health data exchange with the CDC.
- Enhance interoperability of health data systems.
- Training health data scientists.
- Support earlier disease and health condition detection using real-time data monitoring;
- Expand and modernize electronic case reporting.
- Spread information on the use and importance of public health data.
The Department of Health and Human Services secretary would work through the CDC and NCHIT to establish data, technology and interoperability standards for public health data systems. Deference would be given to standards from consensus-based standards development organizations.
Grant applicants would have to agree to the standards the CDC sets to qualify for an award.
The HHS secretary would have 180 days to set the process in motion and submit a strategy for modernizing public health data systems to Congress. A year later the secretary would issue a congressional report on barriers to interoperability, the public health impact of the plan and ongoing activities.
Outside of HHS, the Veterans Health Administration would receive $4.9 billion to support the development and operation of IT systems and telecommunications. An additional $2.6 billion would be made available for the Veterans Electronic Health Record System through the end of fiscal 2023,
More broadly the bill would add $25 million to the White House’s Technology Modernization Fund, as well as $55 million to the Federal Citizen Services Fund to support interagency projects using innovative IT to enable electronic services.