President Obama will sign the 21st Century Cures Act, also called the Cures Now Act, into law on Tuesday, December 13th.
Both Republicans and Democrats supported the bill, which passed the House on a 392-26 vote. It then sailed through the Senate with a vote of 94-5.
Two of those dissenting Senators are favorites of the far Left: Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
The Cures Now Act makes it easier for new drugs to make it out of the FDA approval process and onto the medicine cabinets of people with chronic and life-threatening illnesses. This significant change doesn’t come cheap: the bill allocates $6.3 billion in government spending over the next ten years to advance medical research and reshape the FDA approval process.
Most of that money would go to the National Institutes of Health to help fund research into cancer treatment, and, hopefully, a cure. This is part of Vice President Biden’s “Cancer Moonshot,” which he announced in January 2016. The NIH will also receive money to research Alzheimer’s disease.
Of that spending, $1 billion will go to combating the opioid addiction epidemic. That billion will be split into $500 million paid out each year for a decade.
This is large-scale government spending on healthcare, something that Warren and Sanders have typically favored in the past. Why does this issue separate them from their colleagues?
Warren spoke on the Senate floor, saying that the bill takes funding away from other programs.
“The bill cuts Medicare funding,” the Massachusetts Senator said. “It raids money from the Affordable Care Act. It takes health care dollars that should have gone to Puerto Rico. It makes it harder for people with disabilities to get Medicaid services.”
She has also spoken out against lowering the bar for FDA approval of new drugs, as well as allowing pharmaceutical companies to market drugs for off-label uses.
Sanders attacked the bill from a different angle, claiming that it helps drug companies more than it supports the American people.
“This bill provides absolutely no relief for soaring drug prices,” Sanders explained. “This bill includes numerous corporate giveaways that will make drug companies even richer. Further, this bill cuts Medicare and Medicaid by $1 billion, while not even guaranteeing funding for medical research or substance abuse treatment.”
Pharmaceutical and medical device companies stand to gain greatly from the Cures Now Act, and “more than 1,300 lobbyists roamed the halls of Congress” to spread the word about the bill. A major gain for drug companies is that, for certain types of new drugs, they will only have to share “data summaries” with the FDA – but not clinical trial data.
The new law will have its most visible impact on people facing serious and debilitating diseases. The new FDA approval process might make it easier for a bad drug to make it to market – but it will also expand the uses of drugs that already exist, and speed up the process of getting life-saving drugs to people who need them.