Nearly three years after its initial introduction, the 21st Century Cures Act has finally passed both houses of the Congress, and is expected to be signed by President Obama relatively quickly. This bill represents one of the few truly bipartisan efforts undertaken by this Congress.
We have previously written about some of the items included (and excluded) in the bill. The bill gives the health institutes the authority to finance high-risk, high-reward research using special procurement procedures, as opposed to more conventional grants and contracts. It also requires the agency’s director to establish “Eureka prize” competitions to advance biomedical research and improve treatments for serious illnesses. The bill also creates a new assistant secretary for mental health and substance use, to be appointed by the president, thereby raising the status of mental health issues throughout the country.
Further, the bill directs federal agencies to step up their enforcement of laws that require equal insurance coverage for mental and physical illnesses. Federal laws and rules requiring mental health parity have been adopted with bipartisan support over the last twenty years, but a White House task force recently found that compliance with those laws has been lagging.
The bill includes $500 million a year to help states prevent opioid misuse and get better treatment for addicts. "These additional resources are particularly critical in rural areas, where rates of opioid misuse and overdose are high, access to treatment is limited, and patients who seek treatment are often met with waitlists that can mean the difference between life and death," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
In a statement made by President Obama shortly after passage of the bill, “We are now one step closer to ending cancer as we know it, unlocking cures for diseases like Alzheimer’s, and helping people seeking treatment for opioid addiction finally get the help they need.”
Obama also noted, “This is a reminder of what we can do when we look out for one another. Like Joe Biden and so many other Americans, I’ve lost people I love deeply to cancer. I’ve heard often from those whose loved ones are suffering from Alzheimer’s, addiction and other debilitating diseases. Their heartbreak is real, and so we have a responsibility to respond with real solutions. This bill will make a big difference, and I look forward to signing it as soon as it reaches my desk.”
Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) stated, “I doubt that there is a family in America who will not be touched by this important legislation.” Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN) was also pleased with the passage, saying, “I don’t think there is enough money that we can put into the N.I.H., because it is important and affects all Americans independent of political party, race, sexual orientation – you name it.”
Medical and Industry Reactions
"The remarkable bipartisan, bicameral support for the 21st Century Cures Act proves that congressional lawmakers are serious about the need for scientific research, effective care-delivery, and the removal of barriers to scientific progress," said Dr. Daniel Hayes, president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
"This legislation will improve the lives and health of countless Americans," said American Psychological Association President Susan McDaniel. "It will increase access to effective, evidence-based care, particularly for those with serious mental illness."
In a Statement from Sharad Lakhanpal, MBBS, MD; President of the American College of Rheumatology, he noted, "While we are pleased that the 21st Century Cures Act will infuse additional, much-needed funding to the NIH to support medical research across the healthcare spectrum, we also know that more can and should be done to help Americans who are disproportionately impacted by arthritis and other rheumatic diseases. Today, arthritis is the leading cause of disability among U.S. veterans and the second most common reason for medical discharge from the U.S. Army. One in three veterans is diagnosed with arthritis, compared with one in five members of the general U.S. population.
As Congressional leaders turn their attention to budget appropriations for the upcoming fiscal year, we urge them to prioritize the creation of a dedicated $20 million arthritis research program at the Department of Defense so that we can better meet the care needs of the thousands of active duty and veteran members of our Armed Forces who live with arthritis.”
Once the bill is signed by President Obama, it will be up to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to implement many portions of the law, which could take years. Funding may be immediate, but the actions the FDA and other federal agencies are responsible for may still be quite a bit away. We will all have to stay tuned as this bill, and its effects, continue to progress.