The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is striving to use data to support its health equity efforts, agency officials said today at the AFCEA Bethesda Health IT Summit.

While CMS is still in the “very beginning” stages of developing a data model aimed at health equity, the agency plans to release its first model later this year, according to Arrah Tabe-Bedward, the deputy director of the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation.

“We know, for example, that there are communities of beneficiaries who have to date not been touched by our models,” Tabe-Bedward said. “And some of what we’re seeking to do is ensure that the reach and scope of our models gets to those communities, gets to those beneficiaries, and collecting data is going to help us confirm that that is happening in the way that we want it to.”

She explained that CMS wants to increase its focus on “underserved populations.” By collecting data, Tabe-Bedward said CMS can determine whether or not it is reaching those beneficiaries or communities who are not usually touched by the agency’s models.

“Our hope is that it will help us both evaluate what’s happening with our models and identify continued opportunities for increasing the scope of our model to reach more Medicare beneficiaries,” she explained.

“We think about how can we construct our systems or modernize them in a way that allows the agency to use the data to support programs and efforts like health equity,” added Lee Ann Crochunis, director of the applications management group in CMS’s Office of Information Technology (OIT).

Another area in which CMS hopes to tackle equity is through zero trust, explained Andrea Fletcher, director of the Digital Service at CMS. However, she said there has been a lack of funding to tackle this problem, which she calls a “digital equity” issue.

“When we think about cybersecurity, particularly with our beneficiaries, we have a lot of people that don’t have access to the internet or don’t have a smartphone,” Fletcher said. “Implementing something like zero trust with our beneficiaries becomes very difficult, right? Because how do we do two-factor authentication?”

“These are areas where we’d love to see increased funding is supporting, we call it digital equity or security equity across our beneficiaries, to make sure that everyone has equal cybersecurity protections,” she said. “The funding hasn’t really been there.”

Read More About
More Topics
Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.