House, Senate committees back $4.2B for IT at VA

House and Senate appropriations panels approved funding measures that essentially match administration requests for the Office of Information and Technology at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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House and Senate appropriations subcommittees backed bills to fund the Department of Veterans Affairs in April 13 markups on Capitol Hill. The bills include provisions to fund IT operations at $4.2 billion -- the level requested by the Obama administration.

The bills also include language restricting funding for VistA modernization efforts at VA until the department can prove that it can exchange electronic health data with the Defense Department and private-sector medical providers without any glitches.

"The bill continues to include language restricting the use of 75 percent of the VistA modernization effort until the VA demonstrates functional improvements in the interoperability of a system to seamlessly exchange veterans' medical data among the VA, DOD and private sector," the bill's summary states.

The full House Appropriations Committee passed the funding bill. On the Senate side, the VA bill passed the Appropriations Committee’s Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Subcommittee and now heads to a markup by the full committee.

The bill "protects those who protect our vets, will reduce the overprescribing of opioids and increases transparency at the VA so those who sacrificed for our nation are not left behind by those tasked with their care," said Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), the subcommittee's chairman.

The House bill appropriates $168 million for the VistA Evolution project to modernize the VA's homegrown electronic health record system. That figure responds to an administrative request for a reduction in funding while the VA considers all its options with regard to the future of its EHR system.

According to the committee report, "members were startled to learn during the recent hearing with the secretary that VA is rethinking the approach it previously chose (to modernize its VistA electronic health record) and is now considering other options, including purchasing a commercial off-the-shelf product."

The House bill fences off funding for VistA modernization pending receipt of information from the VA about its business case analysis of EHR systems and other documents detailing the agency's strategic plan for electronic health records.

Both House and Senate appropriators remain concerned about interoperability between VA's VistA and DOD systems, as well as the planned militarywide system that is scheduled for testing later this year.

In previous testimony, VA CIO LaVerne Council assured lawmakers that although the department was taking a step back from the planned modernization of VistA, no interoperability deadlines have been affected.

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