Senate Appropriations Committee approves funding VA for interoperable EHR, telemedicine, claims processing systems

The bill gives the Veterans Affairs money to digitize claims processing, advance telemedicine, and modernize its electronic health record software, but only once it proves interoperability with the DoD and private sector. 
By Jack McCarthy
10:07 AM

The U.S. Senate approved a bill that would give the Veterans Affairs Department a total of $83 billion in discretionary funding for fiscal year 2017, including money for an interoperable electronic health record, telemedicine efforts and a paperless claims processing system.

The Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, also known as MilCon-VA, provides $3.1 billion more than last year’s funding, including $260 million for modernizing its electronic health record system, $180 million for a paperless claims processing system, $143 million for the digital scanning of health records, and $1.17 billion for telemedicine.

Saying that the bill funds the VA at record levels, Republican Illinois Senator Mark Kirk, who is also chairman of the MilCon-VA Appropriations Subcommittee, explained that it protects veterans, reduce opioid overprescribing, and improve transparency at the VA, among other objectives. 

[Also: CIO LaVerne Council says VA needs new EHR with analytics, cloud, patient experience capabilities]

Some of the money comes with conditions, however, most notably for the EHR.

“The bill includes language restricting the use of this funding until the VA demonstrates functional improvements in the interoperability of a system to seamlessly exchange veterans’ medical data among the VA, DOD and the private sector,” according to a statement issued by Republican Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran, who is also chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

MilCon-VA for 2017 also provides $350 million for military medical facilities,  $1.5 billion for Hepatitis C treatment, $675 million for medical and prosthetic research; $535 million for health care specifically for women veterans; $5.7 billion to care for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans; $284 million for traumatic brain injury treatment; and $250 million for rural health initiatives.

Senators passed MilCon-VA by a vote of 30-0; similar legislation was included in a companion bill passed Wednesday by a U.S. House of Representatives committee.  

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