Se­nate ap­proves mas­sive ‘Cures’ bill

Obama to sign health pack­age

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

Ground­break­ing phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals could get a speed­ier path to ap­proval by the fed­eral govern­ment un­der a bill Congress cleared Wed­nes­day that also ear­marks $1 bil­lion to tackle Amer­ica’s opi­oid epi­demic.

Dubbed 21st Cen­tury Cures, the bi­par­ti­san leg­is­la­tion passed 94-5 in the Se­nate, fol­low­ing a sim­i­larly lop­sided vote in the House and strong en­dorse­ment from Pres­i­dent Obama.

“This bill will make a big dif­fer­ence, and I look for­ward to sign­ing it as soon as it reaches my desk,” Mr. Obama said in a state­ment fol­low­ing pas­sage.

The $6.3-bil­lion pack­age des­ig­nates nearly $5 bil­lion for the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health to ac­cel­er­ate re­search into ma­jor dis­eases, in­clud­ing $1.8 bil­lion for Vice Pres­i­dent Joseph R. Bi­den’s “moon­shot” project on can­cer, and $500 mil­lion for the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion to make its ap­proval process more ef­fi­cient.

It doles out $1 bil­lion in state grants to com­bat opi­oid ad­dic­tion — a key pri­or­ity for Mr. Obama — and pro­vides money for men­tal health treat­ment and sui­cide pre­ven­tion, while es­tab­lish­ing a new as­sis­tant sec­re­tary for men­tal health at the De­part­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices.

Those pro­vi­sions stemmed from the GOP’s push to ad­dress gun vi­o­lence af­ter the Sandy Hook El­e­men­tary School shoot­ing in New­town, Connecticut, in late 2012.

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell hailed the Cures pack­age as “one of the most mean­ing­ful bills we’ll pass this year.”

“This med­i­cal in­no­va­tion bill will help foster so­lu­tions when it comes to heart­break­ing ill­nesses like Alzheimer’s, opi­oid ad­dic­tion, men­tal health disor­ders and can­cer — heart­break­ing ill­nesses that af­fect our fam­ily, and friends, and con­stituents,” the Kentucky Repub­li­can said.

Mr. Obama echoed that theme, say­ing the bi­par­ti­san achieve­ment “is a re­minder of what we can do when we look out for one another.”

Yet pro­gres­sives such as Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren, Mas­sachusetts Demo­crat, and Sen. Bernard San­ders, Vermont in­de­pen­dent, balked at the bill, say­ing will help drug com­pa­nies speed their prod­ucts to mar­ket while do­ing noth­ing to help con­sumers strug­gling with skyrocketing pre­scrip­tion-drug prices.

Demo­cratic Sens. Ron Wy­den and Jeff Merkley, both of Oregon, also voted “no,” as did Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Repub­li­can.

New spend­ing in the bill is paid for with $3.5 bil­lion from Oba­macare’s pre­ven­tion and pub­lic health fund, as Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump vows to re­peal and re­place the health care law, plus tweaks to Medi­care pay­ments and the sale of oil from the Strate­gic Pe­tro­leum Re­serve.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion wasn’t thrilled with those off­sets, known in Wash­ing­ton-speak as “pay­fors,” but it backed the leg­is­la­tion, any­way, say­ing its ben­e­fits out­weighed the draw­backs.

“Not ev­ery­one’s sat­is­fied with the fund­ing mech­a­nism, but we’re all vot­ing for it, be­cause it’s such an im­por­tant bill,” said Sen. La­mar Alexan­der, Ten­nessee Repub­li­can who cham­pi­oned the leg­is­la­tion.

That groundswell of sup­port pro­duced a poignant mo­ment late Mon­day, as se­na­tors named the bill’s can­cer pro­vi­sions af­ter Mr. Bi­den’s son, Beau, who died from the dis­ease last year.

Mr. Bi­den presided over the cham­ber as se­na­tors voted to ad­vance the bill, cu­ing up fi­nal pas­sage Wed­nes­day.

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