The House last week passed appropriations legislation that would allocate $1.9 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs’ electronic health record modernization program if it passes into law in its current form.
Language included in the VA appropriations bill provides $1.2 billion for the Oracle Cerner-operated electronic health record contract, as well as $424 million for infrastructure readiness preparations associated with the system. It would also allocate $253 million for program management.
The proposed fresh funding comes amid increasing scrutiny from Congress over the troubled EHR rollout and wider scrutiny of technology procurement at the department. Last month, lawmakers in the Senate introduced a bipartisan bill that seeks to create an oversight board to review major acquisitions by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Following passage by lawmakers in the House, the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill now moves forward to be considered by Senate lawmakers after they return from recess.
In its current form, money allocated to the EHR for fiscal 2024 is contingent on the agency providing a quarterly report of obligations, expenditures and the technology deployment schedule to Congress. The initiative will be administered by the Office of the VA Deputy Secretary.
According to the bill, the VA is not expected to request the release of the 25% of funds set aside for fiscal 2023, and it plans to pause new deployments of the system in fiscal 2024. In April, the VA announced that it had stopped all further implementation of the project as part of a major reset.
In a statement at the time, the agency said that the system would not be brought online at any further locations until it is considered “high functioning” and issues at current locations are resolved.
Within 30 days of the appropriations bill being enacted, lawmakers are seeking a report of each new EHR requirement and customized interface added in fiscal years 2022 and 2023, to establish whether they were outside of the scope of the contract. And within 45 days, lawmakers want a briefing on the department’s plan to set enterprise standards, according to the bill.
Previous legislation also requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide Congress with updates on steps the agency has taken to revise and enhance the EHR training program, ensure proper medication management and the accuracy of patient data, and that the system is properly identifying veterans who may be at high risk for suicide.
In May, the VA struck an agreement with Oracle Cerner to renew the technology giant’s contract for the electronic health record modernization program. In a statement at the time, the agency said the renegotiated contract “dramatically increases” the agency’s ability to hold the company to account.