Donovan Slack , USA TODAY
The Washington, D.C., headquarters of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (Photo: Donovan Slack, USA TODAY)
WASHINGTON — The secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs says veterans shouldn’t have to wait for a better medical record system, so he’s citing a public interest exception to federal contracting rules and tapping a private company — without competitive bidding — to build a new system.
Secretary David Shulkin said Monday the department will use Cerner Corp., the same company modernizing medical record keeping for the Department of Defense.
The move, Shulkin said, will result in all patient data “residing in one common system that will enable seamless care between the departments” as service members leave the military and transition to VA care and benefits.
Cerner won the $4.3 billion DOD contract in 2015, and Shulkin said there’s no reason VA should have to start from scratch to build a separate system — and wait possibly years through another procurement and bidding process. “We simply can’t afford to wait that long when it comes to the health of our veterans,” Shulkin said.
Shulkin did not give a timeline or cost estimate for the project, saying VA officials will start working with Cerner now to try and determine the scope, timing and cost.
The announcement comes during what the White House has billed as President Trump’s “infrastructure week,” when he and members of his administration are rolling out plans to update the nation’s roads, bridges, and airports, among other things. The president hailed the VA plan at a press conference Monday.
“The records will now be able to follow the veteran when they leave service, meaning faster, better and far better quality care,” Trump said. “This is one of the biggest wins for our veterans in decades.”
Shulkin last week delivered a State of the VA address at the White House that revealed how dire the agency’s problems remain nearly three years after a wait-time crisis at the Phoenix VA prompted a nationwide scandal, the replacement of the VA secretary at the time, and the passage of laws to try and fix it.
He said wait times are still an issue with veterans waiting two months or longer for appointments at 30 VA medical facilities, and at 14 facilities, veterans are receiving lower quality care on average that what they could receive in the private sector.
Shulkin said some $50 million worth of bills for private sector care have been outstanding for six months or longer, and 90,000 veteran claims for disability benefits also have been languishing for six months or longer.
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