Bill would strengthen data access between tribes, government entities

Newly introduced bipartisan legislation would help tribes access public health data and address health disparities that impact Alaska Native and American Indian communities especially hard.

The Tribal Health Data Improvement Act, sponsored by Senators Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Tina Smith, D-Minn., called for more data sharing between tribes, tribal epidemiology centers and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, so tribes can be more effective in meeting public health challenges.

The bill also has support from Senators Jon Tester, D-Mont., Steve Daines, D-Mont., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, and Kevin Cramer, R-ND, and the National Indian Health Board.

The senators said tribes and tribal epidemiology centers are routinely denied access to important health data systems, despite having clearance to do so. Structural barriers to accessing data have been especially problematic during the global pandemic, which has disproportionately hurt Alaska Native and American Indian communities, they said.

Murkowski said that in navigating the COVID-19 pandemic tribes have face significant challenges in accessing CDC data to carry out their responsibilities to their members.

“The changes made by this legislation will go a long way in improving the quality and accuracy of tribal health care data, including amending a statute that has posed many challenges to the Alaska Native Tribal Epidemiology Center’s ability to access life-saving data from the CDC,” Murkowski said.

“Better data, improved access and use of this data will mean better information for reporting and decision making,” said Andy Teuber, chairman and president of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.

The Tribal Health Data Improvement Act would require the CDC to enter into cooperative agreements with tribes, tribal organizations, urban Indian organizations and tribal epidemiology centers to address misclassification and under sampling of American Indians and Alaska Natives on birth and death records, and in health care and public health surveillance systems.

A summary of the bill is at murkowski.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/09.11.20 Tribal Health Data Improvement Act One Pager.pdf.