Senate passes bill to force greater transparency over VA health records modernization costs

The US Department of Veterans Affairs building is seen in Washington, DC, on July 22, 2019. (Photo by Alastair Pike / AFP)

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Senate lawmakers have unanimously passed legislation that will require the Department of Veterans Affairs to report the costs of its electronic health records modernization program more regularly and in greater detail.

The proposed bill has already passed the House of Representatives and will now be sent to President Biden to be signed into law.

If enacted, the VA Electronic Health Record Transparency Act of 2021 will mandate that the department report program costs to congressional committees on a quarterly basis and will be required to start doing so no later than 90 days after the bill is enacted.

To comply with the new legislation, VA will also be required to provide a breakdown of program funding sources in its reports.

The legislation progresses amid frustration among lawmakers over the access to information about the modernization program being granted by the VA. It achieved wide bipartisan support from a long list of lawmakers like Sens. John Boozman, R-Ark., Patty Murray D-Wash., Bill Cassidy R-La., Sherrod Brown D-Ohio, Mike Rounds R-S.D., Richard Blumenthal D-Conn., Thom Tillis R-N.C., Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., and Mike Braun, R-Ind.

Earlier this month, one senior congressional staffer speaking to FedScoop said that multiple requests for information about the program rollout had been “repeatedly ignored.”

VA has recently continued with the rollout of its electronic health records modernization program, which relies on Cerner’s Millennium platform, despite opposition from lawmakers.

Earlier this month, the department forged ahead with a go-live of the platform at the Central Ohio Healthcare System in Columbus, Ohio, following implementation of the system at sites in Spokane and Walla Walla, Washington.

In March, the department’s Office of Inspector General published a trio of reports that identified major concerns about care coordinationticketing and medication management associated with the EHR program launch.

Commenting on the bill, Sen. Moran, R-Kan., said: “The VA, and consequently our nation, has invested a great deal of time and money into the VA Electronic Health Record Modernization program.”

“The potential benefits of this program are tremendous, and we have to get it right,” he added. “This legislation and soon to be law will ensure the VA is providing the proper transparency throughout the EHRM implementation to better allow this committee to conduct oversight during the deployment process to ensure veterans receive the care they deserve and hold the VA accountable for taxpayer dollars.”

Sen. Tester said: “Providing our veterans with seamless, high-quality care means making sure the electronic health record system is hitting the mark—for vets, for their families, and for taxpayers.”

He added: “This bill is now on its way to the President’s desk. I’m hopeful he signs it into law without delay so Congress is able to exercise strengthened oversight over this program, ensuring it delivers lasting value to the VA medical staff and veterans who use it.”

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Biden administration, Cerner, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), electronic health records (EHRs), House of Representatives
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