Obama Signs VA Health Reform Bill That Leverages Health IT
August 7, 2014 in News
On Thursday, President Obama signed into law a $16.3 billion bill (HR 3230) to overhaul the Department of Veteran Affairs and improve veterans’ access to care following reports of data manipulation at several VA centers to hide long appointment wait times, The Hill reports (Matishak, The Hill, 8/7).
In April, Sam Foote, a retired physician at the Phoenix VA Health Care System, claimed that employees at the practice inaccurately used the center’s electronic health record system and “deliberately” created a secret waiting list to hide documentation of delays in care. According to Foote, up to 1,600 patients were placed on a secret electronic waiting list at the Phoenix center, sometimes waiting months to over a year to have an appointment scheduled.
The waitlist scandal resulted in the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and spurred several investigations (iHealthBeat, 6/10).
Health IT-Related Provisions
The new law, which includes $12 billion in new emergency funding and $5 billion from spending cuts within the VA system, aims to address wait time delays in part by leveraging health IT.
Specifically, the law will require VA to:
- Create a special task force to examine its current scheduling software system and make recommendations for improvements;
- Expand telehealth services through its mobile VA centers and mobile medical units, which serve rural and underserved areas (iHealthBeat, 7/30);
- Send an annual report to Congress outlining the use of telehealth by mobile VA centers (Bowman, FierceHealthIT, 7/31); and
- Update its scheduling software system.
The law will give VA one year to act on the requirements (iHealthBeat, 7/30).
During the signing ceremony at Fort Belvoir, Obama said, “Implementing this law will take time. It is going to require focus on the part of all of us. And even as we focus on the urgent reforms we need at the VA right now, particularly around wait lists and health care system, we can’t lose sight of our long-term goals for our service members and our veterans” (Kaplan, CBS News, 8/7).
Groups Praise Telehealth Provisions
In an emailed statement, the American Telemedicine Association’s Senior Director of Public Policy Gary Capistrant called the legislation’s telehealth provisions “a great step toward overall improvement” of care delivery.
He said, “Telemedicine has been proven to lower costs, improve access and quality of health care” (FierceHealthIT, 7/31).
Similarly, Health IT Now Senior Policy Council James Turner in a statement applauded lawmakers for “including telemedicine at the core of the VA reform bill” (Health IT Now statement, 7/29). Turner noted that both VA and the Department of Defense “understand the potential to decrease wait times, improve care and decrease cost” (FierceHealthIT, 7/31).