Joined by 19 other healthcare organizations, an AACC coalition is asking Congress to appropriate an additional $7.2 million dollars to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) toward improving clinical laboratory test harmonization. Congress is working on spending bills for the government’s 2023 fiscal year budget.

“Every patient should have access to dependable and accurate clinical laboratory test results … and those test results should be harmonized,” AACC wrote in a letter to committee leaders in the House of Representatives. “The CDC is doing incredible work harmonizing the results for several tests, and we believe with continued funding, CDC could expand its efforts—benefiting clinicians and patients alike and contributing to overall efficiencies in public health.”

Without harmonization, laboratory tests have their own unique ranges of values. While each test method is accurate, their differing ranges of results among labs inhibits the kind of data sharing necessary for coordinated care.

“As the healthcare delivery system moves toward a more integrated model where health information will be shared among providers, patients, and payers, laboratory data will be the key piece of health information that will be used to improve the quality of care using clinical guidelines, performance measures, and electronic health records. For most laboratory tests, however, a gold standard either does not exist or is not readily applied,” AACC noted.

With Congress’s previous support, CDC has produced several breakthroughs in harmonization, AACC said. This includes distributing reference materials for standardization programs and doubling the number of harmonized biomarkers for chronic diseases since 2014, as well as improving programs for harmonizing point-of-care testing instruments.

New CMS Policies Aim to Advance Health Equity

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a proposed rule for how Medicare pays hospitals that will measure hospitals on how they support health equity. Under the plan, CMS would adopt three health equity-focused measures in the Hospital Inpatient Quality Reporting Program.

The first measure assesses a hospital’s commitment to establishing a culture of equity and delivering more equitable healthcare by capturing concrete activities across five key domains, including strategic planning, data collection, data analysis, quality improvement, and leadership engagement.

The second and third measures aim to capture screening and identification of patient-level, health-related social needs. Examples include food insecurity, housing instability, transportation needs, utility difficulties, and interpersonal safety. By identifying these unmet needs, hospitals will be in a better position to deal with these key contributors to poor physical and mental health outcomes, according to CMS.

HHS Focuses on Healthcare's Effect on Climate

The Department of Health and Human Services is asking healthcare organizations to commit to tackling climate change through a new initiative aimed at reducing emissions across the healthcare sector. “Climate change exacerbates health disparities and private healthcare stakeholders have an opportunity to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate future damage,” according to the agency.

Hospitals, health systems, suppliers, pharmaceutical companies, and other groups are invited to submit pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase their climate resilience. The pledge asks signees to commit to: reducing their organization’s emissions (by 50% by 2030 and to net zero by 2050) and publicly reporting on their progress; completing an inventory of supply chain emissions; and developing climate resilience plans for their facilities and communities.

“The healthcare sector contributes 8.5% of total U.S. emissions, so they have a big role to play,” National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy said. “We are excited for healthcare leaders across the country willing to step up, reduce emissions, and help us reach the President’s bold climate goals.” The Biden Administration committed at a November 2021 United Nations Climate Conference to create a low-carbon health system.