General Assembly requires DHHS to provide more data transparency in exchange for COVID money

N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen briefs press at the Emergency Operations Center. Photo via N.C. Dept of Public Safety

RALEIGH — The North Carolina General Assembly held a rare Saturday session to pass a pair of relief bills known as the “2020 COVID-19 Recovery Act.” Much of the bill related to spending with some spending tied to increased data transparency at the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services.

“This legislation puts North Carolina on the right path to recovery. For weeks, our citizens have been anxious about their future because of this virus, and today we can assure them that action is being taken to allay their concerns,” said Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden), Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue (D-Wake), House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Kings Mountain) and House Minority Leader Darren Jackson (D-Wake) in a press release.

House Bill 1043 mainly deals with various funding issues such as government operations, businesses and education, while Senate Bill 704 handles various policy changes in economic support, tax relief, business and education that may be needed due to COVID-19.

“Members have been working hard for more than a month, on a bipartisan basis, to deliver a comprehensive response package that addresses the critical needs of North Carolinians,” said Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) in a statement. “This was a great process working across the aisle and across chambers. Recognizing there is more work to be done, I am proud of the work we’ve done to help North Carolina get back on its feet.”

The final spending total landed at $1.6 billion after a few days were spent hammering out the differences between the House’s initial draft of $1.7 billion and the Senate’s $1.3 billion.

The funding in the bills comes from the federal government and not the state. The funds will be drawn from the over $3.5 billion available to the state from the four relief bills passed by Congress, one of which is the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act,” or the “CARES Act.” These federal funds cannot be used to replace or make up for lost state or local government revenue.

Senate Bill 704 includes $70 million for continuity of government operation needs, including covering overtime costs, purchasing Personal Protective Equipment, sanitation and hygienic supplies, and critical information.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services will receive $25 million for testing, tracing, and trends related to COVID-1,9 but the funds will not be released unless five specific data reporting and transparency requirements are met.

A number of elected officials, including Berger and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, have been vocal about the lack of testing data transparency by Cooper’s administration and DHHS. Berger has advocated for wider and more random sample testing in order to determine a more accurate fatality rate.

The five requirements are to be posted on the COVID-19 Dashboard of DHHS’ website:

  • Positive and negative COVID-19 test results
  • A list of vendors contracted to perform COVID-19 testing and the cost per test
  • COVID-19 recovery rates
  • COVID-19-related hospital discharges, along with underlying health conditions, if any, associated with each COVID-19 hospital discharge
  • Comprehensive reporting on COVID-19 deaths, including the percentage of patients diagnosed with severe comorbidities prior to being diagnosed with COVID-19 and whether these deaths are solely classified as deaths due to COVID-19

Another $50 million has been set aside for the purchase of PPE.

Over $85 million will go to COVID-19 research that included $29 million for the UNC Collaboratory, $20 million for Wake Forest University Health Services, $15 million for Duke University’s Human Vaccine Institute, $15 million to the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, and $6 million to the Campbell University School of Osteopathic Medicine.

$5 million is set aside for at-risk students and $10 million for student mental health services. A separate $15 million in grants will cover “extraordinary costs” that districts or schools might incur.

Other spending in the bill for Social Services includes $19 million for foster and child care, $6 million for food banks, $5 million for community health centers, $5 million for free and charitable clinics, and $1.5 million for prescriptions for the uninsured.

Rural hospitals will receive $65 million while teaching hospitals and a general relief fund for hospitals in the state will receive $15 million each.

About A.P. Dillon 279 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_