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Advocacy Update: Exciting Progress for Data Modernization, But Much Left to Do

Posted By Emily Holubowich, CSTE Washington, DC Liaison, Friday, July 19, 2019
Updated: Friday, July 19, 2019

In early 2019, the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE), Association of Public Health Laboratories, Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMMS), and National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems (NAPHSIS) joined together to spearhead a bold and transformative campaign – Data: Elemental to Health – to secure $1 billion over the next decade to modernize the public health surveillance enterprise at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and through it, state, territorial, local, and tribal (STLT) health departments. This funding would also support efforts to modernize the public health workforce by training, recruiting (e.g., student loan repayment and fellowships), and retaining skilled data scientists. Data systems require adept staff to use them, maintain them, interpret the data, and develop and deploy actionable public health interventions to save lives.
 
No doubt you are familiar with the proverb, “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Indeed, partnerships are the cornerstone of the Data: Elemental to Health campaign. Today, there are 90 entities representing patients and consumers, public health professionals, health care providers, and IT that are advancing our priorities to build a public health data “superhighway” of the 21st century. Our partners extend beyond these organizations. You have been a centerpiece of this campaign, as well. For the first time ever, CSTE helped coordinate a Day of Digital Action in June using HIMSS’s grassroots advocacy platform that allowed CSTE’s members and others to send emails to federal lawmakers about the importance of public health data, and the need to modernize IT systems. This Day of Digital Action yielded more than 1,200 messages from every state to members of Congress.
In just six months, together we’ve gone both far and fast.
 
As a result of our collective efforts leading the Data: Elemental to Health campaign, we’ve delivered the following results:
  • Legislation passed in the House that, if enacted, would appropriate $100 million in fiscal year (FY) 2020 for CDC to modernize the public health surveillance enterprise and workforce at the federal and STLT levels.
  • Legislation introduced in the House – the LIFT America Act – that would authorize $100 million per year for public health data modernization activities over each of the next five years.
  • Two bills introduced in the Senate – The Saving Lives through Better Data Act and the Lower Health Care Costs Act – both of which are bipartisan, that would also authorize data modernization initiatives.
With four bills in two chambers, lawmakers have made clear their support for public health data modernization in both words and deeds. Unfortunately, making these promises a reality hinges entirely on Congress and the White House’s ability to stave off devastating cuts – 10 percent across the board – that are scheduled hit defense and domestic programs, including public health in fiscal 2020. Without a bipartisan budget deal to #RaiseTheCaps, lawmakers will have no choice but to cut funding for public health, despite their best intentions. Congressional leaders are intent upon raising the spending caps and avoiding scheduled cuts. White House officials continue to participate in conversations with congressional leaders, but seem less enthusiastic about a deal, or at least, a deal that would increase funding for domestic priorities like public health (recall that the president’s fiscal 2020 budget request proposed deep cuts to public health).
 
In sum, our progress to date is exciting, but a broader budget deal will need to fall into place for our efforts to bear fruit. We will continue to urge Congress to #RaiseTheCaps, so we can secure much needed funding to improve the nation’s public health infrastructure.
 
Emily J. Holubowich, MPP is the Senior Vice President, Cavarocchi Ruscio Dennis Associates, LLC. Emily joined CRD Associates in 2009 and has nearly 20 years of experience in health and fiscal policy, government relations, strategic communications, and coalition management. She has represented CSTE’s interests on Capitol Hill since 2013.

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