- Robert Wilkie, the Trump administration's nominee to take over the Department of Veterans Affairs, said he does not back privatization of the department, during a hearing on his candidacy on Wednesday.
- When further pressed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, Wilkie said he would oppose the idea of privatization and would stand up to the White House on such an effort. Wilkie also told Sanders, if confirmed, he would explore the option of expanding dental care to veterans' healthcare benefits.
- Wilkie also said he would not commit to going live with a new EHR system at VA until it had been properly tested. The new VA EHR system, to be implemented by Cerner, will connect to the Department of Defense's EHR system MHS Genesis. DoD's system, which is also run by Cerner, has been beset with rollout issues.
Wilkie's predecessor David Shulkin left the job with a bang earlier this year, vocally protesting what he called the Trump administration's drive toward privatizing the VA. Most veteran groups oppose a full scale privatization, as do most Democrats.
Healthcare was a big topic during Wilkie's hearing. During his testimony, he pledged to create a more "agile and adaptive" healthcare system for American veterans.
Wilkie said he envisioned four main action items to improve the VA healthcare system:
- Improve the culture and communal aspects of the VA system;
- Improve access to care;
- Reduce agency backlog; and
- Reform the business of human resources for its healthcare system.
He said veterans and those they engage with at healthcare facilities should be able to converse and understand each other's vernacular. The reformation of the VA's human resources department will help automate payments claims and appointment scheduling, Wilkie said, pointing to provider access as one large issue for veterans.
VA has had a poor history of claims backlogs in recent years. Wilkie acknowledged during the hearing that it will take several years to get to a system where claims get processed in a very short turnaround time yet said he will advocate for he "bridges in appointment systems" to address such issues.
VA's new EHR contact is the first step to modernize the VA, Wilkie said. The agency recently signed a contract with Cerner in May in a $10 billion no-bid contract. At the time, Wilkie said the agency “will add capabilities as necessary to meet the special needs of veterans, VA clinicians and our community care partners."
During the hearing, Wilkie added that the EHR will be able to connect to the Department of Defense and private actors such as pharmacies to "create a continuum of care," to boost suicide and opioid misuse prevention.
The panel is expected to vote on the nomination in the near future.