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Senate Passes VA Mission Act to Improve Health Data Exchange

The Senate recently passed the VA Mission Act, which includes policies designed to improve health data exchange.

VA Mission Act includes policies to improve health data exchange.

Source: Thinkstock

By Kate Monica

- The VA Maintaining Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks (MISSION) Act of 2018 — which includes policies meant to improve health data exchange between VA and the private sector — recently gained congressional approval.

The newly-passed legislation cleared the Senate by a 92-5 vote, according to The Washington Post. The bill will likely reach President Trump by Memorial Day.

The VA Mission Act includes a $55 billion package funding a five-year commitment to resolve problems with VA healthcare including prescription drug monitoring, health data access for community care providers, and health data exchange between VA care sites and care sites in the private sector.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated the VA Mission Act will enable an additional 640,000 veterans to receive care outside VA care facilities.

Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) and Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-GA) have worked to negotiate the bill with the White House and several veterans groups over the past year.

According to the Washington Post, problems related to current vacancies in VA leadership — particularly following former VA Secretary David Shulkin’s departure from the federal agency — contributed to delays in passing the bill.

 Industry leaders including Sequoia Project CEO Mariann Yeager have expressed approval for the bill. 

“For many years, we’ve seen veterans and their providers frustrated because veteran health records were not accessible to private sector providers due to an administrative issue,” said Yeager in a public statement.

“The VA Mission Act provides an important fix that will unlock veteran health records to enable the providers who care for veterans to make better informed decisions and coordinate care regardless of whether they are treated at a VA medical facility or in the private sector,” she continued.

The legislation states that the VA Mission Act will enable VA to share EHR data with non-VA healthcare providers “for the purpose of providing health care to patients or performing other health care related activities.”

eHealth Exchange Vice President Jay Nakashima said the bill will provide the necessary update to federal policies to move health data exchange and interoperability forward.

“Since its inception, the eHealth Exchange network has worked closely with the Department of Veteran Affairs to support health IT interoperability between the department and partner providers but our success was limited by an outdated congressional mandate — until now,” Nakashima wrote in a public statement.

“With the passage of VA Mission Act, we hope to see exponential improvements in health data sharing between community providers and the Veterans Health Administration, with the resulting benefits of patient satisfaction and health outcomes,” he concluded.

The VA Mission Act replaces the Veteran’s Choice Program by consolidating VA’s private care programs and contracting with an outside company to streamline and simplify billing processes.

The bill also includes policies that may help to reduce administrative burden on VA care providers.

Section 2 of the bill calls for the development of a two-year pilot program that will increase the use of medical scribes in emergency departments and specialty care settings at ten VA medical centers.

This effort to reduce administrative burden on VA care providers may help to ease the stress of the federal agency’s upcoming Cerner EHR implementation.

After months of delay, VA signed the $10 billion contract to replace its homegrown legacy VistA system with a new commercial Cerner EHR in an effort to improve interoperability with the Department of Defense (DoD.)

Acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie assisted with completing contract negotiations. Wilkie is currently in the running to serve as the new VA secretary after President Trump’s former nominee — former presidential physician Ronny Jackson, MD — withdrew.

Wilkie is also currently serving as DoD undersecretary.

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