Congress Approves 21st Century Cures Act

This past week, Congress approved a new healthcare-centered bill called the 21st Century Cures Act.The bill allots $6.3 billion dollars towards achieving several much-needed healthcare initiatives. The bipartisan bill passed in the House of Representatives by a 396-to-26 vote, and in the Senate by a 94-to-5 vote. It’s just awaiting President Obama’s signature in the coming days.

The bill looks to strengthen mental healthcare, speeding up drug approvals to make innovative treatments more accessible, funding cancer research and brain science research, as well as combatting opioid and prescription drug abuse. The bill has its own pros and cons, like any piece of legislation, but has finally come to fruition after years in the making.

The bill is expected to have an impact on the lives of those touched by mental and physical chronic illnesses, pregnant women, children who are bullied, hospitals, and biomedical researchers, as well as anyone who is either struggling with addiction, or has a loved one who is. This population represents nearly the entirety of Americans, and is indicative of the bill’s potential wide-spread reach.

Of the bill’s funds, $4.8 billion will be designated for use by the National Institute of Health (NIH), to support the Cancer Moonshot project (named after Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Beau, who recently passed away of brain cancer), the BRAIN Initiative (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies), regenerative medicine, and the Precision Medicine Initiative, which aims to collect genetic data on a million American volunteers in order to better understand different illnesses, and more efficiently tailor treatments.

The mental health provisions include funding to suicide prevention programs, mental health services for children, the reinforcement of current laws that require mental illness to be treated the same as others when it comes to insurance benefits, and will add a new position in the US Department of Health and Human Services who will coordinate mental health programs and initiatives across the country and governmental systems. An additional $1 billion will be allocated to the treatment and prevention of opioid use, including training clinicians to recognize warning signs, and better monitoring drug prescriptions.

One of the most impactful aspects of the bill for our communities, is the speeding up of development and approval for new medical devices and treatments by the FDA. The FDA will be able to use real-world, or “patient-experience” evidence when it comes to approving already established medications for the treatment of more conditions. There will also be new measures of establishing efficacy of many treatments, that will be quicker, and bypass many long-term benchmarks of traditional clinical trials in favor of bringing a promising medication to research completion sooner. Many of these tactics are already used in other parts of the world, including in Europe and Asia.

Opponents of the bill worry that this could lower the regulatory bar and lead to less safe and less efficient medications on the market, however, much of the focus is on expanding treatment with existing medications which could particularly benefit individuals with chronic illnesses who aren’t satisfied with their current options, and the slow-moving process to develop new ones.

While no piece of legislation is perfect, and it will need continual follow-up, it could provide steps in the right direction for many sectors of the healthcare field. Many organizations have joined the bandwagon in support of the bill, including the American Psychiatric Association, American Society of Clinical Oncology, American Gastroenterological Association, American Heart Association, Arthritis Foundation, and the Association of American Medical Colleges.


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