Congress fine-tunes military health IT funding

Health care systems serving warfighters and veterans stand to benefit from enhanced funding in budget legislation pending before Congress.

The Iraq war supplemental appropriations and the Veterans Affairs Department fiscal 2008 appropriations bills include funding increases for patient tracking and health record systems.

Political wrangling has stalled both bills, however. The Bush administration objects to a provision in the Iraq supplemental bill that would mandate U.S. troop withdrawals. President Bush has also threatened to veto the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill.

Meanwhile, the fiscal 2008 Defense Department appropriations bill, which Bush signed into law in November, includes a provision requiring DOD and VA to report to Congress next March on their progress on establishing a joint electronic medical record.

The supplemental appropriations bill includes two provisions designed to enhance patient-tracking systems. The Military Health System would receive $10.6 million to support systems used to electronically track wounded troops transported from Afghanistan and Iraq to hospitals in the United States. The Army’s Medical Communications for Combat Casualty Care would receive $22.6 million for tactical medical tracking systems for Army Reserve and Army National Guard units.

The 2008 VA bill allocates $37.1 billion to the Veterans Health Administration -- $2.5 billion more than the president’s request and $4.4 billion more than VHA’s 2007 budget. Funding for VA IT is pegged at $1.9 billion -- $645 million more than 2007 funding. The additional money is allocated for smoothing transitions between the DOD and VA health systems.

The bill also requires progress toward making VA and DOD medical records interoperable. A similar provision was included in DOD’s 2008 appropriations measure.

Earlier this year, the Government Accountability Office identified multiple DOD/VA information exchange initiatives but described them as ad hoc.

“It is not clear how all the initiatives are to be incorporated into an overall strategy focused on achieving the departments’ goal of comprehensive, seamless exchange of health information,” GAO auditors concluded.

About the Author

Peter Buxbaum is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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