House committee earmarks $65 million for VA's Cerner EHR transition, but there's a catch

Appropriations Committee says the VA must detail how the new EHR would be interoperable with the DoD and private sector systems.
By Jessica Davis
04:11 PM
VA Cerner EHR

A military budget bill passed by the U.S. House Appropriations Committee on Monday would provide $65 million for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to move its VistA IT system to Cerner. 

However, those funds come with strings.

According to the budget, the VA must provide Congress with a detail explanation of its solicitation with Cerner for its development of the agency’s EHR. Further, the VA must detail how the new EHR would be interoperable with the DoD and private sector systems.

[Also: VA secretary: Cerner EHR choice brings big clinical gains]

The agency must share with Congress how it plans to maintain the functionality of VistA during the transition, while explaining how it will manage the transition process -- including pilot programs and user training.

The 2018 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill allocates $182.3 billion to the VA.

VA Secretary David Shulkin, MD announced last week that it would make the shift from its outdated VistA system to Cerner -- the same platform as the U.S. Department of Defense.

[Also: VA picks Cerner to replace VistA; Trump says EHR will fix agency's data sharing 'once and for all']

The funding will “ensure the swift implementation of the plan for the VA to use an identical electronic record system as the DoD,” officials said in a statement. “This will also ensure our veterans get proper care, with timely and accurate medical data transferred between the VA, DoD and the private sector.”

Under terms of the bill, The VA must also create and share a detailed plan on how it will develop and implement the EHR, including timelines, performance milestones, a master schedule and both annual and lifecycle cost estimates.

DoD’s entire Defense Healthcare Management Systems Modernization is projected to cost $4.3 billion. The VA is significantly larger than DoD, so it’s likely the overhaul will cost significantly more.

Shulkin has yet to provide an estimate on cost or when the VA will begin the process. However, at a May House Committee on Veterans Affairs, Shulkin said he planned to return to Congress to ask for more funding if the agency chose to go with a commercial-off-the-shelf EHR.

“We’ve charted a course for modernization: We need help to improve growth and make healthcare a reality for all veterans,” Shulkin said in his opening statement.

Twitter: @JessieFDavis
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