Health

House Passes Major Bill Aimed At Cancer Moonshot

| by Robert Fowler

In a rare act of bipartisanship, the House has overwhelmingly passed a bill that will provide a massive influx of funding to help propel the White House's Cancer Moonshot initiative and bolster research into how to combat the opioid epidemic and treat a litany of diseases such as Alzheimer's.

On Nov. 30, the House passed the legislation, known as the 21st Century Cures Act, by a vote of 392 to 26. The massive medical research bill drew support from the majority of Democrats and Republicans alike, according to CNN.

"It's personal — people have family members with Alzheimer's, people have family members who died of breast cancer," said Republican Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan. "They see children with these awful diseases. This is the answer."

If signed into law, the bill would provide $6.3 billion in funding to cancer research, accessibility to drugs, opioid addiction treatment, and transform how health insurers treat mental illness, according to The New York Times.

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The bulk of the funding would go to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Vice President Joe Biden, who is heading an ambitious effort to fight cancer announced by President Barack Obama at the beginning of the year, would direct $1.8 billion for cancer research.

Vice President Biden lost his son, 46-year-old Beau Biden, to brain cancer in May 2015. In October of that year, while announcing that he would not run for president, Biden stated that he would dedicate his time to "an absolute national commitment to end cancer as we know it today."

For the past year, Vice President Biden has culled strategies on how to best combat cancer from the field of researchers and tech leaders, delivering a report to President Obama in September, according to the Huffington Post.

In June, Biden stated that the key goal to reducing cancer would be to remove bureaucratic red tape for patients and researchers.

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"The impediment isn't the lack of the gray matter genius (of cancer researchers) and the ingenuity in terms of new drugs and new treatments, et cetera; it's all this stuff that gets in the way," Biden said during a meeting at Howard University in Washington. "The only thing I'm good at in government is getting things out of the way."

The desire to find solutions to cancer, the opioid epidemic and diseases that deteriorate the brain, as well as reform mental health services spurred many lawmakers to set aside partisanship to support the ambitious funding bill.

"It's encouraging that even in this politically charged moment, Republicans and Democrats have been able to reach a compromise to allow a comprehensive mental health reform bill to pass with major new funding to confront the nation's opioid crisis," said Democratic Sen. Christopher Murphy of Connecticut.

"This package will mean hundreds of millions of dollars in new care for the mentally ill and those in the middle of crippling addictions," Murphy added.

Despite overwhelming support in the House, the legislation could face steep hurdles in the Senate.

A provision in the bill that would exempt doctors from disclosing certain financial contributions made to them by pharmaceutical companies has Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa concerned that the legislation is a trojan horse for the drug industry.

The bill would also lift many of the regulations on the approval of medical treatments, which has some lawmakers concerned that passing it will result in lower drug safety standards.

While the legislation may find more resistance in the Senate, it will have the advocacy of Vice President Biden, who has been making phone calls to lawmakers urging them to vote yes.

One anonymous Democratic staffer observed that if Biden "weren't pushing for it, it would probably fail."

Sources: CNN, The Huffington PostThe New York Times / Photo Credit: Disney | ABC Television/Flickr

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