Health & Fitness

‘Moonshot’ bill a boon for medical research and mental health

Surrounded by advocates and lawmakers, U.S. President Barack Obama (C) shakes hands with Vice President Joe Biden after signing the 21st Century Cures Act into law at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building December 13, 2016 in Washington, DC. The legislation, part of which was named after Biden's son Beau Biden who died of cancer, boosts funding for medical research, eases the development and approval of experimental treatments and reforms federal policy on mental health care. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Surrounded by advocates and lawmakers, U.S. President Barack Obama (C) shakes hands with Vice President Joe Biden after signing the 21st Century Cures Act into law at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building December 13, 2016 in Washington, DC. The legislation, part of which was named after Biden's son Beau Biden who died of cancer, boosts funding for medical research, eases the development and approval of experimental treatments and reforms federal policy on mental health care. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) Getty Images

In the nearly eight weeks since the presidential election, the health care issue most on the minds of pundits has been the fate of the Affordable Care Act – aka “Obamacare.”

Will it be “repealed and replaced” as GOP legislators have promised, and if so, what will the new program entail?

Observers also have wondered how the fate of Obamacare will affect President Obama’s legacy.

What too few pundits have noticed, though, were the goings-on recently on Capitol Hill – and how the bipartisan approval of a sweeping medical bill may well be what President Obama is most remembered for in the coming decades.

Earlier this month, in a 94-5 vote, the U.S. Senate approved the 21st Century Cures Act — a $6.3 billion federal investment designed to address several of the most pressing health care issues that the country faces:

▪ Mental health reform.

▪ Opioid addiction.

▪ Alzheimer’s and cancer research (what Vice President Joe Biden has dubbed a “moonshot”).

President Obama signed the bill into law on Dec. 13. Here are just some of the many conditions and/or sectors that could be positively influenced:

Mental illness

“The 21st Century Cures Act marks a giant step forward in fixing our broken mental health system,” said Louisiana Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy. “It institutes comprehensive mental health care reform and makes resources available to the millions that have been previously denied treatment due to a lack of access.”

The American Psychiatric Association is also on board with the bill’s language, citing some of the following measures:

▪ Reauthorizing grants to support integrated care models so mental health professionals can work more closely with primary care doctors

▪  Reauthorizing grants for training programs, such as the APA Foundation’s Typical or Troubled? program, which trains school officials to identify students in need of mental health services

▪ Requiring the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a plan to ensure enforcement of federal parity laws that mandate that insurers cover mental illness the same as any other ailment.

▪ Providing $1 billion in state grants to address the opioid epidemic

“This law takes us a huge step forward in improving our mental health care system,” said APA CEO and Medical Director Dr. Saul Levin.

National Institutes of Health/Food and Drug Administration

Billions have been earmarked for the NIH to develop medications that prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, as well as better treat those who are afflicted. In addition, the FDA will receive increased funding to streamline the approval process of new drugs.

One of the provisions — which is not without some controversy —gives the FDA more “flexibility” in its approval/clearance process for medications and medical devices.

This has some critics (including Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts) concerned that, at the behest of pharmaceutical companies, the FDA will relax its testing standards — perhaps even abandoning clinically approved double blind studies in favor of less stringent studies.

Cancer ‘moonshot'

Biden, who lost his son 46-year-old son Beau to brain cancer in May 2015, made cancer funding/research his top priority in helping get the bill passed in the House (392-26) and Senate.

As Biden said after Obama’s 2016 State of the Union address – in which the president laid out his plans for an all-out financial assault on cancer – “It’s personal for me. But it’s also personal for nearly every American, and millions of people around the world. We all know someone who has had cancer or is fighting to beat it.”

At this politically divided time, it’s encouraging to see Congress finally put partisanship aside on major legislation that has the potential to benefit us all.

Let’s hope it’s a harbinger of things to come.

Steve Dorfman writes for The Palm Beach Post.

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