WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives is set to vote on Wednesday on a bill that would provide more federal money for medical research, would boost funding for the National Institutes of Health and speed the approval process at the Food and Drug Administration.
The bipartisan bill, called 21st Century Cures Act, is sponsored by Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich. It’s one of the most lobbied health care bills in recent years — more than 1,455 lobbyists, representing companies, universities and various organizations, have pushed for it or argued against it.
Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell has described the bill as “the most important legislation Congress will consider this year.” Once the House votes, he said, the Senate will seek to completion action on the legislation before the end of December.
A version of the bill originally passed the House in July 2015, and went to the Senate where it stalled. After Senate and House health committee leaders worked out differences, an amended version of the legislation is scheduled for a House vote Wednesday. If it passes, it is expected to be taken up by the Senate without amendment.
Before the bill passed last year. Upton advocated for it on the House floor.
“The bill is about making sure our laws, our regulations and our resources keep pace with scientific advances,” he said. “21st Century Cures, it’s for those we lost, those who grapple with sickness today and those who will be diagnosed tomorrow.”
The amended legislation includes funding for President Barack Obama’s precision medicine initiative, Vice-President Joe Biden’s cancer “moonshot” and Alzheimer’s research. Additionally, the bill would include $4.8 billion in mandatory funding for the NIH, an increase over current spending, but far less than the $9.3 billion which was originally sought. It also would provide $1 billion over two years to fight the growing opioid epidemic.
The bill has been is supported by many organizations including the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, the main trade group for brand-name drugmakers.The National Center for Health Research, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the U.S Oil and Gas Association are also on board.
Earlier this month, a letter to Congress urging passage, was signed by a more than 200 patient-focused organization.
But not everyone is in favor the Cures bill. Several nonprofit patient advocacy and research groups oppose the bill, because of concerns about endangering patients with a simplified approval process for certain drugs and device.. Additionally, many Democrats are upset that the bill does nothing to address the exponential rise of prescription drug prices such as the Mylan’s EpiPen and Valeant’s Cuprimine.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., spoke out against the bill on the Senate Floor Monday, saying 21st Century Cures is a package of favors for big pharmaceutical companies.
“When the American votes say that Congress is owned by big companies, this bill is exactly what they’re talking about,” Warren said. “This funding is political cover for huge giveaways to giant drug companies.”
If passed, the new spending proposed by the bill will be paid through cuts in Obamacare’s Prevention and Public Health Fund, and also through raising money by selling off oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.