State wants to tighten control over medical records network

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(Host) State officials want to tighten control over a corporation that is building a computerized network of medical records.

Lawmakers and the Douglas Administration say the additional oversight is needed, since the private organization gets public money.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Vermont Information Technology Leaders is developing a system of statewide electronic health records. The technology is supposed to save money, and improve health care.

But it’s not cheap. The legislature decided to help pay for the computerized network through public funds and a tax on health insurers operating in Vermont. The tax is designed to raise about $32 million dollars over seven years.

Now the state is tying some strings to those state dollars.

(Besio) "The fact that they’re getting 75 percent of the funds from the state we believe that that warrants some oversight in terms of their structure."

(Dillon) Susan Besio directs health care reform efforts in the state. She says with so much money involved, the state needs to keep a close watch on how it’s spent.

The Douglas Administration and several lawmakers have asked the board of the organization to resign. State officials want to review new board members. And they want changes made in the corporate structure before a new state grant is approved.

(Besio) We’d like to be assured that the board is going to be representative of different constituents and that they’re people who have the skills that we think that will be useful for the board.

(Dillon) Vermont Information Technology Leaders – the organization is known by its acronym VITL – now has 21 board members. VITL is downsizing to an 11 member board. But some in the organization have resisted calls for the entire board to resign.

Dr. Larry Ramunno is a VITL board member and chief quality officer with Northeast Health Care Quality Foundation.

(Ramunno) I’m really just confused. What problem are we trying to solve?

(Dillon) Ramunno says VITL is meeting its goals either on schedule or ahead of time, so he questions what the state is trying to accomplish.

(Ramunno) "I assume that someone would come to the conclusion that the organization wasn’t effective, based on some objective benchmarks, none of which I could find."

(Dillon) One health policy analyst says the confusion stems from the hybrid way the state decided to advance and pay for health information technology. Jeanne Keller is a consultant who has observed the debates over VITL, and she says state government is belatedly trying to exercise oversight over a multi-million dollar private enterprise.

(Keller) If you’re going to give that amount of money to an organization to carry out state policy it shouldn’t be a private non profit corporation, it should be an instrumentality of the state, it should be a public nonprofit like Vermont state colleges board… clearly carrying our state purposes with oversight by the legislature.

(Dillon) Keller says the legislature decided to have the private sector work on the information technology project, yet pay for it with money from taxpayers.

(Keller) I think the legislature’s failure to make a clear decision before imposing the tax to raise all this money to give to VITL is now going to come back to haunt them.

(Dillon) The VITL board meets later this week to consider some of the changes to its structure.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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