For two years, Congress has been working on legislation to advance medical innovation in the United States. From the beginning, I've argued that any "cures" bill must include substantial new funding for medical research (National Institutes of Health), or it’s not going to cure anything.
Finally we put together a pretty decent bill with some serious compromises and some good work: a bipartisan mental health bill, protection of genetic privacy for patients, a proposal to improve foster care, and some funding for Vice President Biden's Cancer Moonshot.
I support most of these proposals. Heck, I wrote some of them myself. But in the final days of this Congress, the 21st Century Cures bill has been hijacked by Big Pharma and big Republican donors.
Democrats and Republicans had agreed that a medical innovation bill would not go forward without substantially more money for NIH. But the Cures deal has only a tiny fig leaf of funding for NIH.
21st Century Cures doesn’t reduce crushing drug prices. It doesn’t really expand the invention of new cures. And it doesn’t increase access to lifesaving therapies.
What does it do?
- Legalizes fraud: It’s against the law for drug companies to market drugs for uses not approved by the FDA. You can’t sell a headache pill as a cure for cancer. Drug companies have paid billions in penalties for "off-label marketing." Instead of following the law, they’ve cozied up to Congress to have the Cures bill shoot holes in it.
- Covers up bribery: Currently, drug companies have to disclose the buckets of money, gifts, giveaways, and free trips they give doctors and hospitals as kickbacks to use certain drugs. Once again, drug companies cozied up to Congress to gut that disclosure rule – allowing any gift related to “medical education” to be exempt.
- Hands out special deals to GOP donors: A major Republican donor to Mitch McConnell’s Super PAC has big business plans to sell dangerous, unproven stem cell treatments before they have been approved by the FDA as safe and effective. Now that donor is collecting on his investment. The Cures bill creates a special deal so people can sell these treatments without meeting the FDA gold standards for protecting patient safety, undermining the integrity of the FDA and the safety of untold numbers of desperate patients.
And there’s another scary thing hidden in this bill: for two years, Republicans have paid lip service to our nation’s opioid crisis while refusing to spend money on it. Now that Donald Trump has won the presidency, Republicans have agreed to set aside a few million dollars to address the crisis on the condition that the Trump Administration has complete control over the money when he takes office. If it passes, President Trump could use opioid crisis funding as a way to punish those suffering with this crisis when their political leaders don’t follow along with his agenda.
There’s more: Medicare cuts, making life harder for people with disabilities, raiding money from the Affordable Care Act, even a gun provision – but not even a 1% increase in funding for NIH. This bill has been so loaded with stink bombs that you can smell it all over Capitol Hill.
On November 8, a majority of voters supported Democratic Senate candidates, and a majority supported the Democratic presidential candidate over the Republican. The American people didn’t vote for Democrats to come back to Washington and play dead while the Republicans hand over control to billionaires and giant corporations. Drug companies and billionaire donors hijacked a decent bill, and we need to take it back or kill it off.
We need to invest in medical innovation in America – but we shouldn’t do it by making it easier for giant drug companies to commit fraud, give out kickbacks, and put patients’ lives at risk. Tell the House and Senate to keep fighting for a better 21st Century Cures Act by voting NO on this deal.