GOP chairman seeks fresh start for medical cures bill

GOP chairman seeks fresh start for medical cures bill
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House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton is pushing to get his signature healthcare bill moving again.

The Michigan Republican is working on a new version of his 21st Century Cures Act. The revamp could be introduced as soon as next week, though lobbyists and aides say that there is still much work to be done, and it would be tough for the legislation to move before the November elections.

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For months, supporters of the push have struggled to find a bipartisan way to pay for billions of dollars in new spending for medical research at the National Institutes of Health.

The House passed the bill in a bipartisan vote in July 2015, but it has been mired in the Senate since then amid months of talks over ways to offset the new spending. Last year’s budget deal used up many of the offsets that were in the original House version of the bill. 

With the window for passing legislation this year rapidly closing, Upton is making a push to jump-start the efforts by passing a new bill through the House. The Senate could theoretically then take up that bill in the lame-duck session after the elections. 

Upton has been working with Democrats, primarily Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), on the legislation, but there is still no deal on offsets, sources say.

The House is also focused on other, more pressing matters, like a bill to fund the government before the Oct. 1 deadline and passing funding to combat the Zika virus. 

Another complication for the bill is that the pharmaceutical lobby opposes a possible addition to the measure that would help pay for it. The measure is called the CREATES Act, and is aimed at increasing competition from generic drugs by fighting a delay tactic where brand-name companies withhold samples of their products that are needed in the regulatory approval process for generic drugs.  

Still, leaders in both parties support some of the broad goals of the Cures bill. For example, the measure could be a way to get funding to Vice President Biden’s cancer “moonshot” and President Obama’s precision medicine initiative to provide individualized treatments. 

But finding bipartisan offsets is a tough task. If a package cannot come together, it is possible smaller pieces of the bill could be included in other legislation, like spending bills or the reauthorization of a drug user fee program next year. 

Upton is well-liked and is pushing hard for his signature issue. He acknowledged last week that it would be “near impossible” given the time available to get a bill through both chambers before the elections.

“We’ve had a lot of good discussions and I remain encouraged we’ll get it done in this Congress,” he said last week. “Watch the magic.”