The top Republican on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee called the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Electronic Health Records Modernization (EHRM) program a “bad investment” during a July 27 hearing, and said Congress may have to “seriously consider pulling the plug” on the project.

With a new cost estimate of $39 billion for implementation of the EHR system over 13 years, and then $17 billion to maintain the system over 15 years, Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., is calling on the VA and Oracle-Cerner to make improvements or risk a program shutdown.

“Cerner has to fundamentally improve and we have to set a deadline. If we don’t see major progress by early next year, when VA says they intend to roll Cerner out to larger sites, we will have to seriously consider pulling the plug,” Ranking Member Bost said.

Initially, the VA estimated the entire program would cost $10 billion over 10 years – including $4.3 billion in IT infrastructure costs – to replace the existing Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA) system. However, the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) reports soon revealed this cost estimate was unreliable.

“The current system VistA has its flaws, too. But, the Cerner effort is now 10 times more expensive than the project to modernize VistA that the VA had abandoned,” Rep. Bost said.

“VA has spent billions of dollars, but the result has been reduced capacity to treat veterans and a collapsed staff morale at these facilities,” he added. “Frankly, what the VA is getting today would be a bad investment at any price.”

Rep. Bost said he will be writing legislation to possibly halt the EHRM project, dependent on what progress VA and Oracle-Cerner make over the next few months.

“Congress never authorized this project. So, therefore we carry some of the blame for failing to lead. We have to lead now,” he said. “I will be writing legislation to do just that. I hope the situation can somehow be turned around, but everyone involved in this mess needs to understand the consequences are real and that there are no blank checks here.”

Terry Adirim, program executive director of the EHRM Integration Office at VA, said her agency is pressing Oracle-Cerner to make the needed system changes to ensure “better stability and to accelerate installation of the capability enhancements.”

“We are committed to ensuring the new EHR works for the dedicated medical personnel and above all our veterans,” Adirim said. “As in any large deployment effort, we expect to experience bumps along the way, but we are now better organized to respond rapidly because of better processes and communication across the enterprise.”

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.