HERC: Data
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Researchers undertaking economic analysis have a variety of datasets to choose from.  The two most commonly used encounter-level cost datasets are the Managerial Cost Accounting System (MCA; formerly the Decision Support System (DSS)), and the HERC average cost datasets.  These datasets exist on VA's Corporate Data Warehouse (CDW).  Researchers will need access to the VA Informatics and Computing Infrastructure (VINCI) workspace to analyze these data.

Historically, researchers who wanted information on care provided in the community but paid by VA would access the Fee Basis data. The data was called Fee Basis because VA paid fee for the service. In 2016, VA brought online a new system known as the Program Integrity Tool (PIT).  PIT is replacing Fee Basis as the the source of information on community care.  For information see our PIT documentation


Types and Sources of VA Cost and Utilization Data

  HERC average cost HERC person-level cost MCA NDE MCA IPD MCA ALBCC FMS PAID NPCD PTF/Med SAS PBM VistA
Inpatient X X X X       X   X
Outpatient X X X X       X   X
Pharmacy     X X         X X
Labor         X X X      
Other     X              


Types and Sources of Non-VA Cost and Utilization Data

  VA Community Care Other
Inpatient X X
Outpatient X X
Pharmacy X X
Labor   X



Accessing Cost and Utilization Data for VHA Research

The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) uses the patient Social Security Number (SSN) as the medical record number. In order to protect patient privacy and maintain the security of medical records, research use of SSNs is highly regulated.

These regulations require two types of patient consent. Study participants must provide informed consent to participate in research. They must also provide a separate authorization to access their medical records under the Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule. The study protocol must be approved by a federally chartered committee for the protection of human subjects (also called an Institutional Review Board). If the researcher can show that it is impossible to obtain these permissions, the Institutional Review Board may grant a waiver from this requirement.

The study must also be approved by a VHA Research and Development (R&D) Committee. Both IRB and R&D committee approvals require proof that data will be stored in a highly secure environment, and that research staff have been trained in privacy, information security, and human subjects' protection.

Once these approvals have been obtained, the principal investigator must obtain an additional level of permission to access data that includes SSNs. This permission is specific to a single research project. For more information on data access, people can visit:

  • NDS VHA Data Portal Web page (Intranet only: http://vaww.vhadataportal.med.va.gov/Home.aspx)
  • NDS DART Web page (Intranet only: https://dart.vha.med.va.gov/vinci_dart_client/dart9/dashboard.html)
  • VINCI Central Home page (Intranet only: https://vaww.vinci.med.va.gov/vincicentral/default.aspx)