House of Representatives Passes 21st Century Cures Act with Overwhelming Support
In a strong show of bipartisan support, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the 21st Century Cures Act with a 392 to 26 vote. The bill, aimed at integrating health information technology services and streamlining drug innovation, will now make its way to the Senate, where it is also expected to pass and eventually gain approval from President Obama.
As one of the last congressional votes for 2016 — and, for some representatives, the last votes of their Washington tenure — the Cures Act includes $6.3 billion in funding for various projects and initiatives over the coming years. Some $500 million will go toward an overhaul of the current drug approval process in the Food and Drug Administration, and another $4.8 million is allocated for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as part of President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative. There are also suggested funds for research on Alzheimer’s disease as well as Vice-President Joe Biden’s “Cancer Moonshot” task force.
In addition to research funds, the bill also paves a pathway for more integrated health information technology (HIT) and electronic health records (EHR) for use between healthcare providers and patients. Past studies suggest that hospitals across the country could collectively save over $30 billion a year by connecting smart technology medical devices such as vital sign monitors, pumps, and ventilators with patient EHRs. Electronic billing can also provide a more efficient way for patients to interact with billers.
Advocates of the bill say that the measures will help improve the “discovery, development, and delivery” of new drugs and treatments, especially those for rare and debilitating diseases.
“There’s so much to like within the bill,” said Paul Melmeyer, associate director of Public Policy at the National Organization for Rare Disorders. “It gives [the FDA and the NIH] more tools to determine and assess safety and effectiveness within therapies — tools they they may not have had otherwise statutorily, but now Congress is giving them the ability to use.”
Despite the overwhelmingly favorable vote, some representatives and senators remain largely critical of the 21st Century Cures Act for its perceived allowance of pharmaceutical companies to push new drugs through the approval process and onto the market without thorough clinical trials.
“It’s time for Congress to stand up to the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies, not give them more handouts,” said Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Of the 26.5 million businesses in the United States, big pharma companies such as Pfizer or Johnson and Johnson generate about $413 billion in global revenue every year.
A White House statement released after the Cure Act’s approval by the House acknowledged that “the bill is not perfect,” but the strengths of its ability to combat urgent issues such as the opioid epidemic and mental health outweighed its faults.