Senate Passes Sweeping 21st Century Cures Act Funding Medicine

Cancer Moonshot: The Doctor Giving a Fighting Chance to Patients 2:02

The Senate passed an extensive medical funding bill Wednesday, sending it to the desk of President Barack Obama, who says he’ll happily sign it.

It was a rare demonstration of unity in a Congress badly split by politics and usually determined to thwart any initiatives coming out the White House. But the $6.3 billion legislation easily passed the Senate in a vote of 94-5.

The measure pays for some of Obama’s pet projects, including the Cancer Moonshot that Vice President Joe Biden leads.

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

The 21st Century Cures Act has been two years in the making and it was one of the most heavily lobbied pieces of legislation in recent history. It pays for cancer research, pays to fight the epidemic of opioid abuse, funds mental health treatment, helps the Food and Drug Administration to speed up drug approvals and pushes better use of technology in medicine.

Related: Some Win, Some Lose From Medical Funding Bill

“We are now one step closer to ending cancer as we know it, unlocking cures for diseases like Alzheimer’s, and helping people seeking treatment for opioid addiction finally get the help they need,” Obama said.

“Third, it invests nearly $3 billion to build upon the major biomedical research initiatives we have launched in my administration – known as the BRAIN and Precision Medicine Initiatives – which are tackling diseases like Alzheimer’s and creating new research models to find cures and better target treatments,” Obama said.

The praise came pouring quickly from industry and medical societies more accustomed to seeing funding bills stall for months or even years in the very badly divided Congress.

Related: House Passes Cures Bill

“The remarkable bipartisan, bicameral support for the 21st Century Cures Act proves that congressional lawmakers are serious about the need for scientific research, effective care-delivery, and the removal of barriers to scientific progress,” said Dr. Daniel Hayes, president of theAmerican Society of Clinical Oncology.

It includes $500 million a year to help states prevent opioid misuse and get better treatment for addicts. “These additional resources are particularly critical in rural areas, where rates of opioid misuse and overdose are high, access to treatment is limited, and patients who seek treatment are often met with waitlists that can mean the difference between life and death,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Related: Lobbyists Had A Big Say in Cures Bill

The bill provides especially detailed instructions to states for boosting mental health care, which most advocates agree is badly neglected across the country.

“This legislation will improve the lives and health of countless Americans,” said American Psychological Association President Susan McDaniel. “It will increase access to effective, evidence-based care, particularly for those with serious mental illness.”

Not everyone loves the act. For one thing, it takes cash from a public health initiative meant to help people prevent America’s biggest killers: chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes.

“The Trust for America’s Health is deeply disappointed Congress will utilize the Prevention and Public Health Fund as an offset for the legislative package known as 21st Century Cures,” said Rich Hamburg, interim president and CEO of the group.

“Cutting the Prevention Fund will limit the nation’s ability to improve health and quality of life and prevent disease. This is the nation’s first and only substantial investment in moving from our current ‘sick care’ system to a true preventive health system.”

Related: This Bill Funds Health. So Why Doesn't Everyone Love it?

Public Citizen openly battled the legislation.

“It is sorely disappointing that Congress gave Big Pharma and the medical device industry an early Christmas present by passing the 21st Century Cures Act,” said Dr. Michael Carome, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group .

“This gift — which 1,300 lobbyists, mostly from pharmaceutical companies, helped sell — comes at the expense of patient safety by undermining requirements for ensuring safe and effective medications and medical devices.”