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Senate Democrats Plan to Introduce Legislation for VA EHRM Program Overhaul

The bill aims to restructure, enhance, and strengthen the VA EHRM program while mandating aggressive reporting to Congress to increase oversight.

Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Chairman Jon Tester (D-MT), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) are leading a legislative push for an overhaul of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Electronic Health Record Modernization (EHRM) program.

In the coming days, the Senators are set to introduce comprehensive legislation that would require VA to implement a series of EHRM reforms.

Their bill would restructure, enhance, and strengthen the EHRM program while also mandating aggressive reporting to Congress to increase oversight, accountability, and transparency following a series of challenges with the system and program.

In a recent briefing on March 15, 2023, VA officials informed the Senate committee staff of six "catastrophic harm" incidents, including four veteran deaths, linked to patient safety issues with the EHRM.

“I have been clear from the start—VA cannot continue with its current EHR system until it works for providers and keeps patients safe. This legislation will put into law the kind of aggressive oversight necessary to fix the current system—that’s my first priority,” Murray said in a press release.

“Importantly, this set of reforms will also overhaul the contracts and acquisitions process so that the issues we’ve seen these last few years can be prevented in the future. I want to make sure the dedicated providers at VA can do their jobs and that our veterans are getting the high quality care they have earned and deserve. Let’s pass the EHR Program RESET Act as soon as possible.”

Chairman Tester echoed Murray, noting that the new EHR system is failing veterans, medical personnel, and taxpayers.

“My colleagues and I are putting forth comprehensive legislation to increase transparency and oversight over the new electronic health record system—holding VA and Oracle Cerner accountable on behalf of the men and women who risked their lives to defend our country,” Tester added.

“Veterans deserve nothing less, and I won’t back down from our continued commitment to safely deliver them the healthcare they need and earned,” he said.

Among its many provisions, the legislation would require VA to:

  • Create metrics to guide whether and how VA should go forward with the new EHR at additional VA facilities and require additional resources to support those facilities;
  • Require VA and EHR vendor Oracle Cerner to fix the technology features connected to patient safety found in VA’s March 2023 Sprint Report;
  • Not implement the new EHR at additional VA health facilities until the data at the existing facilities demonstrates an ability to deliver healthcare to veterans at standards that surpass metrics using VA’s VistA system, or that meet national health operations standards as determined by the Under Secretary for Health;
  • Select a lead senior negotiator and leverage other federal agencies and independent experts to offer strategies for managing aggressive EHR contract negotiations with Oracle Cerner to protect taxpayers and veterans;
  • Develop an alternative “Plan B” strategy for a new EHR in the event Oracle Cerner will not agree to new contract terms that protect taxpayers and increase accountability;
  • Reform major VA acquisitions to prevent future programs with poor contracting, oversight, management, and planning from occurring;
  • Add healthcare experts with proven experience implementing EHR deployments to the VA Advisory Committee to advise VA leaders on potential strategies on how to improve VA EHRM’s implementation.

The law would also require the Department of Defense (DoD) to report to Congress quarterly on steps it is taking fix DoD information technology systems, including those which are outdated and are negatively impacting VA’s ability to deliver healthcare, benefits, and other services, including through the Oracle Cerner EHR.

Top members of the House VA Committee have also recently introduced bills that would set a higher bar for the Oracle-Cerner EHR’s performance.

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