Senate passes VA appropriations bill, omits Cerner EHR funding

Since the committee wasn’t provided data about the cost of a new EHR system, the Senate will need to reevaluate funds to replace VistA at a later date.
By Jessica Davis
01:07 PM

The Senate Appropriations Committee passed the 2018 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill on Thursday, which provides the agency with $192.8 billion in total funding.

Included in the funds is $88.9 billion in discretionary funding - $6 billion more than the fiscal year 2017. But the amount is $568 million less than what was proposed in the President’s budget request.

While it allows $70.7 billion in the fiscal year 2019 advance funding for veterans healthcare -- including $1.3 billion for telehealth services -- there is no mention of funding to replace VA’s outdated VistA electronic health record with Cerner.

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As the decision to move to Cerner was announced by VA Secretary Shulkin in June, the committee did not have had the time to adjust the budget for the fiscal year 2018.

“Given the lack of information about the cost of a new EHR, but the Committee’s awareness of the final cost estimate of the DoD acquisition, it can be assumed the VA total cost will exceed previous estimates for VistA Evolution,” the bill states.

“To that end, in its oversight capacity, the Committee will re-evaluate, with the Committee on Appropriations of the House of Representatives, the constraints on the obligation or expenditure of funding for the new acquisition at the appropriate time,” it continues.

What’s interesting is that when the House Appropriations passed the funding for VA soon after the announcement was made about the move to Cerner, the committee provided the agency with $65 million for the EHR modernization.

Much like with the House Appropriations bill, the Senate applied similar provisions for the EHR modernization. The committee expects the VA to share clear metrics and goals for interoperability -- including timelines.

Further, the VA must “ensure clinician feedback is sought and considered as the respective EHR systems are modernized, and to update the VA/DoD Interagency Program Office guidance to reflect agreed-upon metrics and goals.”

“The need for well-functioning, up-to-date EHR technology is absolutely critical as VA plans for a shift to a model of care that greatly expands its use of care in the community,” the bill states.

Twitter: @JessieFDavis
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