On Tuesday, President Barack Obama signed into law the $6.3 billion bill called the “21st Century Cures Act, intended to expand medical research and speed up approval of new drugs and medical devices. This is likely the last bill Obama would sign during his presidency.
In a ceremony held at the White House, lawmakers from both major parties and Vice President Joe Biden came to witness the historic bill signing.
The 21st Century Cures Act allocates a $4.8 billion budget for 10 years’ worth of research at the National Institutes of Health. It includes $1.8 billion for Joe Biden’s cancer “moonshot” initiative, $1.5 billion for innovative medical projects that will allow mapping of the human brain and a $1 billion fund for substance abuse treatment on heroin and opioid addiction. The law also includes the much awaited mental health bill.
Both houses of Congress gave the bill an overwhelming number of votes. This was an unusual move from republican and democrat lawmakers who are preparing to fight over the ObamaCare bill next year.
“It is wonderful to see how well Democrats and Republicans in the closing days of this Congress came together around a common cause,” Obama said.
“I think it indicates the power of this issue and how deeply it touches every family across America,” he added.
Liberal senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren objected to passing the bill, saying the law would include numerous giveaways that will make pharmaceutical companies richer because of lowered regulation and does not address the soaring drug prices.
The bill intends to speed up the approval process of the Food and Drug Administration for new drugs. This would allow the FDA to use “real world evidence,” rather than time-consuming clinical trials.
Consumer groups expressed their concerns that the faster approval would lower safety standards. However, both parties in congress assured the public that despite the faster approval, safety will still be maintained.
The bill would also address Republican Rep. Tim Murphy’s mental health reform bill as a response to mass shootings across the country. nevertheless, democrat lawmakers suggested that gun control is needed to stop the shootings.
Both parties set aside their differences and worked together to pass the medical cure bill. The law would establish a new assistant secretary for mental health along with a chief medical officer in the Department of Health and Human Services.
Murphy said these new positions will address and bring more accountability to mental health services and substance abuse.
The 21st Century Cure act would also focus on areas like suicide prevention and improve enforcement of “parity” rules that will require insurance companies to cover mental health as it does physical health.
The mental health coverage of the bill is scaled down compared to what Murphy originally proposed. It does not lift restrictions on Medicard to cover mental health treatment, which would have cost billions of dollars.