As an increasing number of lawmakers voice opposition to the recently signed $295 million deal to bring contact tracing to Texas, new concerns are being raised about the agreement and the company that was awarded the contract.
Contact tracing refers to a process where researchers attempt to identify everyone who may have come into contact with a confirmed carrier of the Chinese coronavirus. Those potentially exposed are then reported to public health authorities and encouraged to get tested or be quarantined.
Recently, it was revealed that the Texas Department of State Health Services had entered into a $295 million, 27-month agreement with New York-based tech company MTX Group to establish contact tracing call centers.
With many Texans voicing their opposition to the program due to privacy concerns, it didn’t take long for some Texas lawmakers—most of whom were not apprised of the agreement before its release in the media—to join their calls.
In a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott this week, State Rep. Steve Toth (R–The Woodlands) focused much of his concern on the company awarded the nearly $300 million contract.
“Since the contract was executed without time for careful review or the oversight of any legislative body, the media, private citizens, and members of the legislature have begun vetting MTX after the fact. As the ink on the contract was drying, we learned that MTX did not have experience in contact tracing or the handling of confidential medical information that is at the core of the project.”
Additionally, Toth says his “most damning” concerns surround potential Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) medical privacy violations, as he notes that the company does not have a call center that complies with HIPAA privacy guidelines.
“In addition, MTX is not providing secured computers or networks for its contact tracers. Emails with sensitive and personal information will be sent and received via unsecured personal email servers,” Toth added.
“For these reasons, I respectfully urge you to take charge of this contract and cancel it.”
Toth is just one of several lawmakers urging Abbott to cancel the agreement with MTX.
State Sen. Bob Hall (R–Edgewood) warned Abbott that going through with the contract could permanently stain his legacy, while State Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R–Arlington) said it was time for an about-face. On Tuesday, members of the Texas Freedom Caucus collectively wrote to Abbott, urging him to end the contract.
More legislators, who haven’t yet publicly written to the governor, have also expressed concerns over the agreement.
As more is learned about MTX Group and the $295 million agreement, Abbott has continued to remain largely silent.