The U.S. Senate on Wednesday passed, by a vote of 92-5, a major Veterans Affairs (VA) reform bill that includes health IT-related provisions to improve health data exchange between VA healthcare providers and community care providers.
The VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks, or VA MISSION Act (S. 2372) is a $52 billion reform bill that will overhaul medical care options for veterans, including giving them more access to private doctors and hospital. The bill also extends the VA’s Choice program for one year.
A companion bill passed the House last week, and the legislation now moves to President Donald Trump’s desk, and he is expected to sign it. With regard to health IT, the bill aims to improve health data exchange between VA healthcare providers and community care providers, including a provision to ensure community healthcare providers have access to relevant patient medication prescription information to ensure safe opioid prescribing practices. The legislation clarifies that VA could share medical information with non-department entities for the purpose of providing health care to patients or performing other healthcare -related activities.
In a section focused on establishing processes to ensure safe opioid prescribing practices by non-VA healthcare providers, the bill mandates that the VA implement a process “to make certain that community care providers have access to available and relevant medical history of the patient, including a list of all mediation prescribed to the veteran as known by VA.”
The bill also clarifies that a covered health care professional may practice at any location in any state, regardless of where the covered health care professional or the patient is located, if the covered health care professional is using telemedicine to provide treatment to a VA patient.
A number of health IT associations and organizations have praised the VA Mission Act. In a statement, eHealth Exchange Vice President Jay Nakashima said, “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to support health IT interoperability between the department and partner providers but our success was limited by an outdated congressional mandate - until now. 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.”
The Sequoia Project CEO Mariann Yeager said in a statement, “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. 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.”
Health IT Now, a broad-based coalition of patient groups, provider organizations, employers, and payers supporting health information technology to improve patient outcomes, also applauded the Senate passage of the bill, particularly the provisions around expanding telehealth access to VA patients.
Health IT Now Executive Director Joel White said in a statement, “With the president's signature, our nation's heroes can, at long last, more easily access the care they need, when they need it, without fear of Washington standing in the way. For too long, veterans have dealt with inflexible laws requiring them to travel long distances to federal facilities in order to receive care from a VA provider located in another state. The VETS Act will propel VA health services into the 21st century, breaking down geographic barriers to care and spurring better outcomes for the 20 million patriots who receive care through the Department of Veterans Affairs today.”
White concluded, "It is our strong hope that the VETS Act is not the end of this Congress' support of technology-enabled healthcare reforms, but simply the latest in a continued series of measures to expand coverage and reimbursement of innovative care delivery models and knock down regulatory barriers to virtual treatment.”
Anders Gilberg, senior vice president of government affairs at the Medical Group Management Association, also said of the VA Mission Act, “With passage of the bipartisan, bicameral VA Mission Act of 2018, Congress made notable improvements to the VA Choice Program that will assist medical group practices in meeting the growing health care needs of our military veterans. The bill aims to lessen the administrative burden on practices that care for veterans outside the traditional VA system. It addresses barriers to care and ensures physicians receive timely payments from the VA so they may continue to provide high-quality care to our nation’s deserving veterans.”