Southern Plains Tribal Health Board: What is a Tribal Epidemiology Center?
Tribal Health Data Improvement Act up for passage in House
Monday, September 28, 2020

The Tribal Health Data Improvement Act is slated for passage in the U.S. House of Representatives this week.

H.R.7948 is being considered under a suspension of the rules on Tuesday, according to the House Majority Leader’s calendar. That means it is expected to pass by a voice vote, due to having widespread support in the chamber.

The Tribal Health Data Improvement Act was introduced on August 7. The bipartisan bill ensures that tribal authorities have access to the same public health data as states and local governments, an issue that has arisen amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The National Indian Health Board strongly supports the Tribal Health Data Improvement Act,” CEO Stacy A. Bohlen of the NIHB said of the measure.

“Tribal Nations, as sovereign governments, are inherent public health authorities providing vital public health programs and services to their citizens and communities,” said Bohlen, a citizen of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. “By statute, Tribal Epidemiology Centers (TECs) are also public health authorities, and play a critical role in assisting Tribal governments and Tribal organizations in public health activities. Yet for years, both Tribes and TECs have faced immense challenges in accessing federal and state health data systems necessary to engage in foundational public health work.”

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce held a markup on H.R.7948 on September 9. Supporters said it will ensure the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) treats tribes in the same manner as states.

“It’s unacceptable that, despite the urging of Tribal authorities and members of this Committee, TECs are still not receiving this vital public health data from CDC and state health departments,” said Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-New Mexico), a co-sponsor of the Tribal Health Data Improvement Act. “Just like any state health department, Tribal health authorities have a vital mission to protect the health of the people they serve.”

“This legislation will help Tribal authorities succeed in this mission while ensuring that the federal government upholds its trust responsibility and lives up to obligations to be better partners in promoting health in Tribal communities,” said Luján.

The U.S. Senate version of the bill is S.4562. It too enjoys bipartisan support.

“During the coronavirus pandemic, Tribes and Tribal epidemiology centers have had trouble accessing public health data and American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/ANs) are routinely categorized as ‘others’ in coronavirus data,” the National Council of Urban Indian Health said in its September 21 newsletter.

“The Tribal Health Data Improvement Act would require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to give direct access to public health data to Tribes and Tribal epidemiology centers, require the CDC to enter into cooperative agreements with Tribes and Tribal epidemiology centers, require CDC to develop guidance for states and local health agencies on how to improve the quality of AI/AI birth and death records, and encourage states to enter into data sharing agreements with Tribes and Tribal epidemiology centers,” NCUIH said of the measure.

S.4562 has not yet moved forward. Passage of H.R.7948 in the House could lead to the bill’s consideration in the Senate.

House Committee on Energy and Commerce Notice
Markup of 38 Bills (September 9, 2020)