House approves 21st Century Cures Act, includes $1 billion state grants to fight opioid abuse

Zach Vance • Dec 2, 2016 at 7:25 AM

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a comprehensive bill Wednesday to restructure much of the country’s mental health system and appropriate $1 billion in state grants to fight against opioid abuse.

Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, and 391 House members voted to approve the 21st Century Cures Act, a $6.3 billion package that includes new research funding for the National Institutes of Health and Food and Drug Administration. 

The bill gained considerable support among both parties and was co-authored by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who chairs the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

“The House of Representatives passed today what I believe is the single most important piece of legislation that Congress will enact this year,” Alexander said Wednesday after the legislation’s approval. 

“It will lower costs of medicines to treat Alzheimer’s, to treat cancer, to treat diabetes, and there is a billion new dollars to fight the opioid epidemic that’s really creating problems in virtually every county in Tennessee.” 

Specifically, the president and Secretary of Health and Human Services will make the decision on how to allocate $500 million in grants for 2017 and 2018.

The legislation does allow the administration to give preference to states with a higher prevalence of opioid abuse than other states. Tennessee currently ranks second behind Alabama in opioid prescriptions per 100 people.

The legislation clearly mentions funding to improve drug monitoring programs, implementing prevention tactics and training for health care providers on best practices for prescribing opioids. It also mentions supporting access to health care services, which include services provided by federally certified opioid treatment programs. 

The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse did not respond to a request for comment on the bill’s passage. 

Roe reiterated his support of the legislation by saying it will streamline cures and medical advancements, while expanding patient options. 

“I am also pleased this bill addresses some of our most pressing public health issues like opioid abuse and mental health care. I truly believe this bill will make a huge difference in the lives of many Tennesseans,” Roe said in a press release. 

Buried in the 1,000-page bill are provisions that increase funding for the National Institutes of Health, which includes funding Vice President Joe Biden’s “Cancer Moonshot” initiative and President Barack Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative that will drive research into genetic, lifestyle and environmental variations of disease. 

Along with expediting the review process for breakthrough medical techniques, $500 million will also be infused into the Food and Drug Administration to speed up approval of drugs and medical devices. 

Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, have been vocal opponents of the bill, claiming pharmaceutical companies “hijacked” the legislation. 

“When American voters say Congress is owned by big companies, this bill is exactly what they are talking about,” Warren said during a recent Senate floor speech.

Alexander said he was hopeful the upper chamber would approve the bill during a vote next week and the legislation would be enacted before the year’s end.

“The Senate will vote next Monday, and I’m confident we will act. (The opioid abuse funding) and mental health legislation will make that the most important legislation we deal with this year,” Alexander said. 

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