House Bill Calls for Public Health Data Infrastructure Transformation

July 22, 2020

A bill introduced May 12 in the U.S. House of Representatives calls for a transformation of the public health data system. The bill would provide $130 million for public health data surveillance and analytics infrastructure modernization.

Among other things, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act calls for the creation of a national system for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, surveillance, containment and mitigation.

To support such an effort, the bill calls on the Secretary of the Health & Human Services, in consultation with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, to designate data and technology standards for public health data systems, as well as for the expansion and modernization of electronic case reporting.

In addition to data sharing, the bill would require HHS to establish a core public health infrastructure program consisting of awarding grants for the purpose of addressing core public health infrastructure needs. Grants would be awarded to each state health department, and could be awarded on a competitive  basis to state, local, tribal, or territorial health departments. Of the total amount of funds awarded as grants under this subsection for a fiscal year, not less than 50 percent shall be for grants to state health departments and not less than 30 percent shall be for grants to state, local, tribal, or territorial health departments.

The bill would require the Secretary of Health & Human Services, acting through the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to expand, enhance, and improve applicable public health data systems used by the CDC and “award grants or cooperative agreements to state, local, tribal, or territorial public health departments for the expansion and modernization of public health data systems.” One goal is to assist public health departments in assessing current data infrastructure capabilities and gaps to improve and increase consistency in data collection, storage, and analysis and, as appropriate, to improve dissemination of public health-related information, and  improving secure public health data collection, transmission, exchange, maintenance, and analysis.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has dismissed the HEROES Act as “another big laundry list of pet priorities.”

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