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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, through the Health Resources and Services Administration, is earmarking roughly $90 million in American Rescue Plan funds to reduce health disparities through new data-driven efforts for HRSA Health Center Program-supported health centers and look-alikes.
HRSA’s modernized data collection and reporting initiative, called Uniform Data System Patient-Level Submission (UDS+), is designed to collect more and better data on social determinants of health, while also streamlining and improving data quality reporting for health centers.
The idea is that health centers will be able to tailor their efforts to improve health outcomes and equity by more precisely targeting the needs of specific patients or communities.
The funding can be used for various COVID-19 activities, and for modifying and expanding healthcare services and infrastructure through improved health IT, data collection and staff training, said HHS.
HHS intends for these efforts to advance the broader response to the COVID-19 pandemic and aid in mitigation and recovery efforts. They may also help prepare for future public health emergencies, the agency said.
WHAT’S THE IMPACT
If the initiative works as intended, the ARP-UDS+ funds would allow health centers to make infrastructure enhancements to support patient-level reporting, and enable them to better identify and investigate disparities in healthcare use and health outcomes by race, ethnicity, age and other demographic factors.
It’s expected that the standardization of patient-level health data will enable the identification of populations most at risk for health disparities, and provide data to inform potential clinical interventions.
Additionally, the ability to collect, house and report standardized patient-level health data is expected to support health centers’ participation in population health surveillance activities during public health emergencies.
Since March 2021, HRSA has awarded about $6 billion to health centers to support and expand COVID-19 vaccination, testing and treatment for populations at higher risk for COVID-19; nearly $1 billion in major construction to increase access in health centers; and roughly $32 million to enhance COVID-19 related training and technical assistance support.
Applications are due in HRSA’s Electronic Handbooks by 5 p.m. ET on Monday, May 23.
THE LARGER TREND
HHS is setting aside the funds to reduce health disparities at the same time that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is enacting a multi-pronged action plan geared toward promoting health equity, which will be enacted throughout the agency and will focus on access, outcomes and outreach to better serve marginalized populations.
A number of actions are laid out in the strategy, including closing gaps in access, building on enrollment outreach efforts and supporting safety net providers caring for underserved communities.
Brooks-LaSure told a crowd at the HIMSS22 annual conference in Orlando in March that interoperability is key to addressing health inequities. Data exchange is needed to understand gaps in the system, she said.
Technology can help in implementing six pillars, she said, which are: addressing health disparities; building on the Affordable Care Act; engaging partners and communities served; driving innovation to tackle health system challenges and promote value-based care; protecting program sustainability; and fostering a positive workplace and workforce.
HRSA-supported health centers serve medically underserved populations and communities, which are often disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Health centers serve one in five people living in rural communities, and one in 11 people nationwide, according to HHS.
More than 90% of HRSA-funded health center patients are individuals or families living at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, and nearly 63% are racial or ethnic minorities.