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E&C Leaders Ask GAO to Review HHS’s New Hospital Capacity Reporting Requirements

Aug 19, 2020
Press Release

Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Health Subcommittee Chairwoman Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette wrote to Government Accountability Office (GAO) Comptroller General Gene Dodaro today requesting a review of the changes that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has made to COVID-19 hospital capacity reporting systems and requirements during the pandemic. 

In their letter, the Committee leaders cite concerns that the Trump Administration has bypassed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and frequently shifted guidance and hospital capacity reporting requirements for key COVID-19 metrics.  These changes required hospitals, and in some cases states, to collect and submit new information through new platforms with little to no advanced notice.

“Not only have HHS’s actions seemingly sidelined the nation’s top public health officials, but they have also reportedly led to unnecessary confusion, additional burden on critical COVID-19 response professionals, and the loss of timely and reliable data, all in the midst of the pandemic when people’s lives are at stake,” the Committee leaders wrote.  “We are concerned that these reporting changes undermine the nation’s COVID-19 response efforts, and therefore request that the Government Accountability Office review the process and impacts of these changes.”

In July, HHS released new guidance requiring hospitals to report additional data and to submit it daily through a new third-party reporting platform operated by TeleTracking Technologies, Inc. (TeleTracking) or through HHS-authorized state health departments.  The new guidance entirely removed CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) as a COVID-19 reporting option for hospitals, despite as many as 85 percent of hospitals already reporting through NHSN.  In testimony before Congress on July 31, 2020, CDC Director Redfield stated that CDC was not involved in this decision and that he was informed of the change only after it was made.

“We are concerned these repeated changes to reporting efforts represent yet another attempt by the Trump Administration to sideline CDC during the national public health emergency,” the Committee leaders continued in their letter.  “While HHS has stated CDC will have access to the data that is made available in HHS Protect, in bypassing CDC, the new reporting processes raise transparency concerns around how the data may be reviewed and its vulnerability to manipulation to hide the severity of the pandemic.”

As part of their request, the Committee leaders requested GAO consider a series of questions, including:

  • What benefits or challenges did changes to the COVID-19 hospital capacity reporting guidance and systems have on the nation’s COVID-19 pandemic response, including the health care system, public health stakeholders, patient care and access to treatment?
  • How has the Administration monitored, tracked and aggregated data collected and compiled through various mechanisms including NHSN, TeleTracking, state-based reporting and the HHS Protect platform, and further ensured quality control, utility and transparency of data collected from hospitals and others on COVID-19 cases and hospital resources?
  • What was the timeline and process for the decisions that led to removing NHSN as a reporting option and limiting future reporting options to TeleTracking and authorized state-based reporting in July 2020? 

To read the full letter, click HERE.