WASHINGTON – Decade-long efforts to streamline medical recordkeeping for military personnel between the defense and veterans affairs departments are costing at least $1 billion in “down-the-drain-funding,” the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman said Wednesday.
“I’m concerned we’re taking a step back toward a model that has been tried and failed,” said Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., at a hearing to examine the project.
An ambitious plan to unite the departments under a single electronic health record system was abandoned earlier this month in favor of a less costly plan to make defense and veterans affairs department systems “interoperable.” The reversal on an integrated record system drew the ire of committee members for giving up on a program that has already cost the government an estimated $1 billion.
“It’s inexcusable,” said Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif. “In this private sector this would be done by now—it would have to be.”
The “patchwork of initiatives” that have been put in place over 15 years, according to Valerie Melvin of the Government Accountability Office, which is Congress’ investigative arm, leaves veterans shortchanged by an outdated system. Melvin authored a report released Wednesday that questions the departments’ ability to share health records with existing systems.
“This is the result of poor oversight and inadequate accountability,” Melvin testified. “The program has not been positioned to fulfill key management responsibilities. More is needed.”
First implemented in 2004, the e-record project was designed to streamline health care for active military personnel and veterans as they transition to civilian life. With a single centralized system officials hoped to prevent delays in care for veterans and active duty personnel that sometimes result from administrative obstacles in sharing health records between separate systems. The plan was slated to go into effect by 2017 at a cost of about $4 billion, according to Defense Department estimates from last year.
But earlier this year, officials decided to scrap that plan when technology challenges persisted and cost estimates nearly doubled, opting instead to build a system based on existing programs.
Defense Department Deputy Chief Management Officer Elizabeth McGrath said the new program will be in effect by the end of 2013, saving the government “hundreds of millions” of dollars, although she could not provide specific cost figures.
Testifying before the committee, VA Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology Roger Blake said changes in the military health care system played a role in the decision against a unified record system.
“We needed to reorder our thinking about what an e-record is,” he said
Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., said he wasn’t satisfied with the departments’ response.
“I don’t see anything here that makes me think we won’t be sitting here in another 10 years asking the same questions and having the same problems,” Roe said.