Senate passes $5.2 billion bill to expand VA private sector care, boost telemedicine

The Senate overwhelmingly approved the VA Mission Act on Wednesday, overhauling private sector care options for veterans.

Passing with a 92-5 vote, the bill cleared just one week after passing in the House with a 347-70 vote. Its passage meets the White House’s deadline to act on the issue before Congress leaves for a week-long recess and heads to the President’s desk where it is expected to be signed into law in the next few days.

The $52 billion reform legislation will overhaul the Department of Veterans Affairs, including how veterans can access healthcare in the private sector and is aimed to improve information sharing between community providers and VA doctors.

The bill clarifies that the “VA could share medical record information with non-department entities for the purpose of providing healthcare to patients or performing other healthcare-related activities.”

Its passage also will require the VA to create a process to make sure private sector providers are able to access relevant patient medical histories, including all prescribed medications. It’s aimed at curbing opioid abuse among veterans.

The bill requires all “contracted providers submit medical records of any care or services furnished, including records of any prescriptions for opioids, to VA in a timeframe and format specified by VA.” The VA also is required to record all prescriptions into the EHR.

Under the legislation, the VA also will be required to participate in a national network of prescription drug monitoring programs that give licensed providers to receive and submit PDMP data. Currently, all but four states participate in a PDMP data sharing collective.

According to the bill, “licensed healthcare providers or delegates would be required to query the network in accordance with applicable VA regulations and policies and no state would be authorized to restrict the access of licensed healthcare providers or delegates from accessing that state’s prescription drug monitoring programs.”

The bill also gives legislative authority to the VA’s Anywhere-to-Anywhere telemedicine program launched by former VA Secretary David Shulkin, MD, and President Donald Trump last summer.

The provision makes it clear that providers can treat patients across state lines with a telemedicine platform, and that care doesn’t need to be delivered in a federal medical facility.

The legislation also mandates a two-year pilot to increase the agency’s use of medical scribes in specialty care settings and emergency rooms at 10 VA medical centers.

The passage has been praised by numerous groups, including the American Medical Association, which said the bill will ensure veterans have “continuity of care external to the VA’s medical network.”

“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 The Sequoia Project CEO Mariann Yeager in a statement. “[It] 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.”

Twitter: @JessieFDavis
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