Congress Passes Health Bill With Bipartisan Support

WASHINGTON (CN) – The Senate passed a sweeping biomedical bill Wednesday that expedites testing procedures for new drugs and medical devices and provides for new funding to federal health agencies.

The proposed law, known as the 21st Century Cures Act, includes $1.8 billion in funding for the cancer “moonshot” President Barack Obama announced in January at his final State of the Union address.

The measure also provides for new funding to the National Institutes of Health and Food and Drug Administration.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced earlier this week that a portion of the bill had been renamed after Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Beau, who died of cancer last year.

The bill eases the path drugs and medical devices must navigate before receiving federal approval and includes funding to help fight illnesses like Alzheimer’s and opioid addiction.

The measure enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress, passing the House 392-26 before the Senate approved it Wednesday with a 94-5 vote.

Proponents of the bill lauded its increased funding of disease research and say it will make it easier to for new types of drugs to get to market, which they say could help get treatments to patients more quickly by cutting through bureaucracy.

McConnell called the legislation “one of the most meaningful bills we’ll pass this year.”

“This legislation puts patients first,” McConnell said on the Senate floor earlier this week. “It helps strengthen the kind of research and treatments needed to cure the most devastating diseases. And it includes provisions to help enhance mental health programs and to provide funding to help fight opioid abuse.”

Critics, however, say the bill gives too much wiggle room for drug companies and will lead to unsafe medications leaking through the overhauled approval process.

One vocal critic of the bill was Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who said it had been “hijacked” by drug companies, and called it “extortion.”

“In the closing days of this Congress, big pharma has its hand out for a bunch of special giveaways and favors that are packed together in something called the 21st Century Cures bill,” Warren said on the Senate floor last week.

Joining Warren in opposition to the bill were Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and Republican Sen. Mike Lee.

Warren’s objections were largely alone, however, as most of her Democratic colleagues still supported the measure.

President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law quickly.

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