House approves conditions on VA's IT budget

The U.S. House of Representatives this week passed a Veterans Affairs appropriations bill that withholds 75 percent of IT funding until the VA and the Department of Defense address their progress on developing interoperable electronic health records systems.

The two-year-bill includes more than $3.8 billion for IT and about $550 million for systems modernization, but only 25 percent will be released until the VA provides a roadmap to the VistA Evolution upgrade. That includes re-scoping, changes to cost estimates, testing plans and other interoperability plans, reports FCW.

"The committee does not intend to delay the progress of developing the health record, but believes continuing oversight is necessary to ensure that the health record will have the capabilities and interoperability promised in the VA documents," members of the House Appropriations Committee--which approved the plan on April 9--wrote.

The Obama administration is opposed to delays in release of the money, fearing it will further hinder VA's ability to produce the technology.

Last week, the VA announced a public contest for ideas on the EHR system to tap outside expertise on the VistA infrastructure it might not otherwise be able to obtain under contracting rules.

The Defense authorization bill is expected to have similar funding provisions, according to an op-ed piece by the committee's chairman, Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, at The Hill.

The Appropriations Committee's defense panel has continued to berate the DoD for it inability so far to create an interoperable EHR system with the VA despite spending more than $1 billion on the project since 2008.

In February 2013, the two agencies abandoned plans to build a joint system from scratch, with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel saying he "didn't think we knew what the hell we were doing."

Meanwhile, with the DoD looking to commercial vendors for its EHR technology, the VA has said it will be entering VistA as a contender for the Defense contract.

To learn more:
- read the FCW article
- find Culberson's op-ed