House Withholds VA Funds Until EHR Progress Made With DOD

May 1, 2014 in News

On Wednesday, the House voted 416-1 to pass a two-year appropriations bill (HR 4486) that would withhold 75% of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ requested funding for electronic health record system upgrades until it shows progress on EHR interoperability with the Department of Defense, FCW reports (Mazmanian, FCW, 4/30).

Background on VA-DOD EHR Efforts

In February 2013, DOD and VA officials announced plans to halt a joint integrated EHR, or iEHR system, and instead focus on making their current EHR systems more interoperable.

The iEHR project was aimed at allowing every service member to maintain a single EHR throughout his or her career and lifetime.

The House and Senate in December 2013 approved a funding bill – the National Defense Authorization Act — that required VA and DOD to develop a plan for an interoperable or single electronic health record system by Jan. 31.

In January, DOD announced that it would keep its current EHR system through the end of 2018.

Last month, the Government Accountability Office released a report that said DOD and VA “have not substantiated their claims” that implementing separate, interoperable EHR systems will be more affordable and quicker than their original plan to develop a joint EHR system for both agencies (iHealthBeat, 4/18).

Details of Bill

Overall, the bill would increase VA spending from its fiscal year 2014 level by $10.3 billion, totaling $158.2 billion for FY 2015.

The bill would allocate $344 million for the VA’s EHR system, but the agency would only be allowed to use 25% of the funding until officials deliver cost estimates updates on VA’s efforts to achieve interoperability with DOD.

In addition, the bill would include $173 million for the Veterans Benefits Management System, which aims to decrease VA’s backlog of existing claims. As of April 26, the backlog stood at 319,363 claims (O’Brien, CQ Roll Call, 4/30).

Culberson Stumps for DOD-VA EHR Interoperability

In an opinion piece for The Hill‘s “Congress Blog,” Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) calls on DOD and VA to work together to make their systems interoperable.

He wrote that because VA and DOD have EHR systems “that don’t communicate with each other” patients’ records often are “inaccessible to the doctors [who] need [them] most,” and their care is compromised.

Culberson writes that the “simple solution” is to make the systems “interoperable,” adding that VA’s VistA system “is a great starting point” because it “manages the medical records for [more than eight] million veterans at 163 hospitals, over 800 clinics and 135 nursing homes around the country.”

He concludes that the appropriations bill “addresses the challenges faced by” VA and “provides additional funding to tackle its most critical problems” (Culberson, “Congress Blog,” The Hill, 4/30).

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