September 26, 2019

Kaine & Blumenthal Call For $100 Million Investment To Boost Public Health Data Modernization

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Tim Kaine and Richard Blumenthal led a letter calling on the Chairs and Ranking Members of the Senate Committee on Appropriations and Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Services to include a $100 million investment in the final, bipartisan appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2020 to boost public health data infrastructure. Their request comes as the nation’s public health system grapples with the ongoing outbreak of vaping-related illnesses that has killed twelve Americans and sickened more than 800.  Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) also signed on to the letter.

“The multistate outbreak of lung illnesses linked to the use of e-cigarette products is the latest of many examples clearly illustrating that our response to health threats can only be as strong as the data systems, processes, and workforce we have in place to address them. Reporting indicates[1] that state health officials have struggled with the lack of a seamless, interoperable data system through which states could share information about cases with one another and the CDC,” the Senators wrote. “Unfortunately, the public health data systems we rely on for our health and safety are antiquated and fragmented. Systems lack the interoperability needed to facilitate timely and secure information sharing. Too often, public health departments are forced to rely on systems with manual processes that are time consuming and error prone, such as paper records, faxes, and phone calls.”

“In light of the e-cigarette-related respiratory illness outbreak and other serious health threats our nation is facing, including opioid overdoses, maternal deaths, and rising suicide rates, we urge you to make the necessary investment that will help us better identify and respond to such threats so we can save more lives,” the Senators concluded.

Earlier this year, Kaine introduced the bipartisan Saving Lives Through Better Data Act, which Blumenthal co-sponsored, to invest $100 million in modernizing the nation’s public health data infrastructure to better protect the public from health threats. Provisions of this legislation were included in legislation that passed out of the HELP Committee in June 2019.

You can find a copy of the letter here and below:

 

 

 

September 26, 2019

 

The Honorable Richard Shelby                                              The Honorable Roy Blunt

Chairman                                                                                 Chairman

Committee on Appropriations                                                Subcommittee on Labor, Health and

U.S. Senate                                                                             Human Services, Education and

Washington, D.C. 20510                                                        Related Agencies

                                                                                                U.S. Senate

                                                                                                Washington, D.C. 20510

 

The Honorable Patrick Leahy                                                 The Honorable Patty Murray

Vice Chairman                                                                        Ranking Member

Committee on Appropriations                                                            Subcommittee on Labor, Health and

U.S. Senate                                                                             Human Services, Education and

Washington, D.C. 20510                                                        Related Agencies

                                                                                                U.S. Senate

                                                                                                Washington, D.C. 20510

 

Dear Chairman Shelby, Vice Chairman Leahy, Chairman Blunt, and Ranking Member Murray,

As you continue to work to come to a final, bipartisan appropriations agreement on the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies appropriations bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2020, we urge you to include $100 million for public health data modernization at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We were pleased that the House of Representatives included this critical investment in their bill and we ask that your committee do the same.

The multistate outbreak of lung illnesses linked to the use of e-cigarette products is the latest of many examples clearly illustrating that our response to health threats can only be as strong as the data systems, processes, and workforce we have in place to address them. Reporting indicates[2] that state health officials have struggled with the lack of a seamless, interoperable data system through which states could share information about cases with one another and the CDC. The absence of an enterprise approach to address this threat underscores the need for improved public health data infrastructure that would support responses to threats of all types—acute, chronic, and emerging. We have also heard from CDC officials that fully implemented data modernization would have permitted timely, interoperable, and more complete information exchange between states and the CDC, expediting the investigation and response to this outbreak.

Unfortunately, the public health data systems we rely on for our health and safety are antiquated and fragmented. Systems lack the interoperability needed to facilitate timely and secure information sharing. Too often, public health departments are forced to rely on systems with manual processes that are time consuming and error prone, such as paper records, faxes, and phone calls. Despite a nationally agreed upon standard,[3] to date only two health care providers—Houston Methodist and Intermountain Healthcare—have implemented interoperable systems to exchange electronic case reports directly from health records, and only for the small number of diseases and conditions states require to be reported to public health authorities.

Our bipartisan legislation, the Saving Lives Through Better Data Act, would improve the nation’s public health data systems to ensure high quality, timely, and accurate information sharing. Our legislation would help public health departments improve data collection and analysis, simplify provider reporting, and support earlier disease detection and response. It would improve interoperability of data systems utilized by public health departments at the federal, state, territorial, tribal, and local levels, develop public-private partnerships to support expansion and modernization of electronic case reporting, and facilitate the development of a strategy to improve data systems at all levels of government. Our bill authorizes $100 million per year for the CDC in fiscal years 2020 through 2024, and we were pleased to see provisions of our bill advance through the HELP Committee as part of the bipartisan Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019.

We urgently need an interoperable, public health surveillance enterprise that will speed up data exchange and response for all present and future health threats—known or unknown. In light of the e-cigarette-related respiratory illness outbreak and other serious health threats our nation is facing, including opioid overdoses, maternal deaths, and rising suicide rates, we urge you to make the necessary investment that will help us better identify and respond to such threats so we can save more lives.

 

Sincerely,

 

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