CMS seeks to close gaps in health equity data collection as new measures roll out

The Biden administration is pushing to resolve big gaps in the quality and accuracy of data on health equity as it installs new requirements for payers and providers.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released a blog post late Thursday outlining steps to address data issues such as aligning standards for collection and gradually implementing equity scores.

“Data can tell a story, but if the data is incomplete or unaligned, the story is also incomplete,” wrote LaShawn McIver, M.D., director of CMS’ Office of Minority Health. “To work to advance health equity, we must improve our data, especially our health equity data.”

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has made closing equity gaps a key pillar of the Biden administration, including pursuing new equity requirements in health plans and value-based care payment models.

A recent framework released by CMS detailed the need for increasing the collection of data on social determinants of health (SDOH) to better identify equity gaps.

“CMS recognizes that progress has been made but is committed to resolving the major gaps in data quality, accuracy and completeness,” McIver wrote. 

She added that CMS has worked to enhance the collection of SDOH data across all of its programs as well as “collection of new health equity-related data elements in post-acute care settings (e.g. care preferences, veteran status, education).”

Another improvement is to give CMS and stakeholders the ability to “tailor programs and policies in post-acute care settings based on needs and disparities as appropriate,” the blog post said. 

However, McIver cautioned that there remain gaps in data availability and quality. Chief among them is that data are often collected in an inconsistent way that isn’t aligned to any standard. 

There are also incomplete data on health equity elements that could curb using them to drive new healthcare decisions. 

Part of the issue is that data are not being collected according to standards already adopted by HHS. CMS is going to prioritize the collection of “new health equity elements across CMS programs to fill existing gaps,” the agency said. 

It also will gradually implement scores on health equity as well as offer new data insights the “public can use to drive action,” the blog said. 

So far, the agency has taken initial steps to address equity. Back in August, CMS approved a set of screening measures for hospitals to meet to identify SDOH in patients. 

CMS also solicited comments on how to include equity measures in star ratings for Medicare Advantage and Part D plans. 

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation created a requirement in its ACO REACH payment model, which goes into effect in January, for participants to craft an equity plan that includes data collection.

“CMS will remain committed to health equity data collection efforts, and CMS anticipates that these efforts will help those who are collecting and using data in their own work,” McIver wrote.