The Price for Failing to Report COVID-19 Data

A recent report from National Public Radio shows that the federal government is planning to penalize healthcare facilities that fail to report 100% of their COVID-19 data. The Trump Administration has been pushing for more compliance from hospitals, but new documents show that some facilities could lose federal funding from the Centers for Medicaid/Medicare Services (CMS) if they fall behind on reporting their coronavirus data, such as the number of new infections, deaths, available ventilators and ICU beds.

Since the start of the pandemic, hospitals were required to submit this information to the CDC, but new requirements have sowed confusion among providers and public health officials. Find out what went wrong and what this could mean for your facility.

Reporting COVID-19 Data

Data has become one of our best defenses against the coronavirus pandemic. Providers, hospital administrators, and state and local governments use this information to manage essential resources and issue new health guidelines. 

The CDC has been collecting COVID-19-related data from hospitals since the start of the pandemic. Facilities have been required to report the latest numbers every single day, including weekends. Internal documents obtained from the White House show that around 85% of facilities were sharing this information with the CDC during the summer.

However, the Trump Administration wanted 100% compliance, so it decided to change how these facilities report their data. Instead of going through the CDC, the White House announced that facilities would now be required to submit their data directly to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Politicians, public health officials, and advocates were quick to push back after the announcement, citing concerns of alienating the CDC in the middle of a pandemic. Hospital administrators were furious that they had to learn a new system when uploading and sharing this data, which could push some facilities to their breaking point.

The White House Steps In

A few months later, NPR has learned that just 25% of hospitals are currently sharing all of their coronavirus data with HHS using this new reporting system. The White House is now planning to issue warnings to 75% of facilities, saying they are at risk of noncompliance.

To shore up compliance, the White House is now considering holding these facilities’ feet to the fire. Internal documents obtained from the Trump Administration suggest that the government will threaten to withhold federal CMS funding to hospitals that fail to submit 100% of their coronavirus data.

New HHS guidelines show the government is now asking for even more information, including the number of confirmed influenza cases, even though the CDC already has its own system for collecting and sharing data related to the flu.

The latest reporting requirements get into the minutia of healthcare, including the patient’s age and demographics, as well as available PPE, including the number of single exam gloves in a hospital. Many facilities simply do not have the resources to itemize the exact number of supplies they have at the end of each day.

A Recipe for Disaster?

Hospital administrators are less than thrilled with the news. For one, they say the Trump Administration should be making it easier on facilities, not harder. Forcing them to switch to a new system in the middle of the crisis has led to a stunning decline in reporting compliance, so it might be better to switch back to the CDC’s reporting system. Many administrators and officials are still in the dark in terms of how to collect and report this data.

These new requirements could make matters worse. If hospitals are worried about losing CMS funding, they could start entering incorrect or made-up data into the reports just to make sure they comply with the latest guidelines.

That concerns Lisa M. Lee, a former public health surveillance worker at the CDC. Speaking with reporters, she said, “I am afraid that what that will do is make the data much less accurate and reliable. And that is only going to hurt the American public.”

Many facilities are working with aging computer systems that could increase the risk of noncompliance. Local health officials in Texas are currently working with a glitchy system that’s at risk of “critical failure.” State officials asked lawmakers for more money to fix the computer system, but the pandemic halted this work. They say the computer cannot keep up with the nearly 60,000 coronavirus tests they are performing each day.

They also say it’s not equipped to handle the task of tracking and tracing coronavirus infections. The state hired a contractor to build a separate system that was not ready until late May and is still not widely used by local health departments.

As you can see, reporting coronavirus data is vital, but it can also be an uphill climb for some facilities, especially those using outdated technology. Let’s hope the Trump Administration won’t resort to withholding CMS funding, as this would only worsen the current crisis. Every facility should do its best to share this data, but they may need a little help from the government.

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