NYAPRS Note: The Senate on Monday voted 85-13 to start debate on the 21st Century Cures bill, setting up the legislation for final passage by Wednesday. While some Senate Democrats and Republicans had some reservations, they're expected to join the majority in supporting the bill - which is strongly backed by the White House - due to its funding for cancer research and opioid treatment. With Biden Present, Senate Makes Rare Show of Bipartisanship Moving to Pass Mental Health Legislation BY Cameron Joseph NY Daily News December 6, 2016
WASHINGTON - In a rare bipartisan breakthrough, Congress moved close to passing legislation on Monday that includes sweeping changes to the U.S. mental health system, a boost in funds to battle opioid addiction, and billions for medical research. And Vice President Joe Biden was on hand for a touching moment.
The CURES Act cleared a key procedural hurdle in the Senate, setting up passage of the law in the coming days. And senators surprised Biden, whose "cancer moonshot" gets $1.8 billion in funds, by renaming the portion of the bill focused on the cancer initiative after his son who died of cancer last year.
The bill was important enough to Biden for him to personally preside over the Senate during the bill's vote, a rarity. He seemed to choke up when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) introduced an amendment to name the section funding his cancer moonshot after Beau Biden, who succumbed to brain cancer a little more than a year ago.
"He's known the cruel toll that this disease can take, but he hasn't let it defeat him. He's chosen to fight back," McConnell said of Biden, who appeared to blink back tears. "The Senate will soon pass the 21st Century Cures Act as a testament to his tremendous effort."
Biden told reporters afterward that senators had surprised him with the move, calling it a gesture of "friendship and affection."
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a leader on the bill, said it was full of "all sorts of good, important bipartisan achievements" on the Senate floor.
"This is impactful, meaningful legislation. This is a bill that is going to start putting a priority on prevention rather than simply on crisis intervention," he said during a press conference earlier in the day.
The 21st Century CURES Act was cobbled together from three different bipartisan efforts, with Murphy, Sen. and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) playing leading roles in getting it through the Senate, while Reps. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and others helped push it through the House.
The legislation gives $4.8 billion more to the National Institutes of Health for new medical research.
The bill also gives $1 billion for states to help combat the ongoing opioid addiction crisis, and makes reforms to help states expand mental health services, prioritize treatment of serious illnesses, and provide funds for states to fund more mental health facilities, as well as creating a new federal office to coordinate mental health systems.
Rep. Murphy said that the bill's passage would show those entangled in a dysfunctional mental health system and their families that "there is help, and there is hope."
The bill also decreases restrictions for new drugs to reach the market, which could help both pharmaceutical companies and the people who would benefit from those drugs, though some health advocates warn that could be problematic.
Not everyone is onboard with the legislation, however - Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has called it a handout for big pharma, saying the industry "hijacked" the debate and watered down safety requirements for new drugs before they hit the market.
In spite of criticism from some on the left, the bill passed Congress with huge bipartisan margins. The bill passed the Senate by an 85-13 vote after clearing the House by 392-26 last week.
President Obama used his weekend address to call for Congress to pass the bill, and will likely sign it into law quickly.
Senate Vote Clears Way for 21st Century Cures Act By Jim Spencer Star Tribune | December 6, 2016
WASHINGTON - The 21st Century Cures Act, which speeds up approval of medical devices and drugs and sets up a sweeping medical research framework for everything from Alzheimer's disease to opioid addiction, passed the last technical barrier to adoption in the U.S. Senate Monday.
The bill is now assured an overwhelming approval vote and the president's signature in the days to come.
A landslide 85-13 cloture vote ended debate on the bill Monday afternoon in the Senate.
The bipartisan decision mirrored a similar avalanche of support in the House last week. The $6.3 billion bill has the Obama administration's support.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, called the bill's broad approach and widespread support "significant" in a chamber often unable to act because of partisan gridlock.
In an interview, Klobuchar cited as highlights funding for the National Institutes of Health and research initiatives for cancer and Alzheimer's disease that the Mayo Clinic will participate in, as well as $1 billion set aside for fighting the country's opioid addiction crisis, a cause she helped lead. She also cited an eating-disorders treatment initiative in the bill that was advocated by Kitty Westin of Minnesota, whose daughter Anna died of an eating disorder.
One thing that did not survive the something-for-everyone approach was a measure that would have restricted some public disclosure of payments device and drug companies make to doctors.
Opposition to such secrecy led that measure to be stripped from the bill, Klobuchar said.
Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota voted to end debate on the bill.
"The Cures Act includes some important provisions that will help accelerate the development of new treatments," he said in a statement. "Although it's disappointing that the measure doesn't do nearly enough to fund medical research or to address high prescription costs, I'm pleased that the bill will make much-needed changes to our mental health policies - including provisions that I wrote to reform how mental illness is handled in the criminal justice system."
Shortly before votes were cast Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell asked to rename the cancer section of the bill for Democratic Vice President Joe Biden's son, Beau, who died of cancer. Joe Biden championed a "cancer moonshot" placed in the act in hopes of finding a cure for that dreaded disease.
Among the few senators who did not want to end debate on the bill were Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Sanders campaigned hard for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, losing eventually to Hillary Clinton.
Warren, a high-profile Democrat, last week offered a scathing review of what she said were the act's concessions to the drug and device industries to allow promotion of products for uses not approved by the FDA.
At the same time, Warren said the bill did nothing to control "skyrocketing prices of drugs."
"I will fight this bill, because I know the difference between compromise and exploitation," Warren said in a Senate floor speech last week.