Cures, mental health bills near finish line

Cures, mental health bills near finish line
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Lawmakers have all but reached a bipartisan deal to move forward on a medical innovation bill — and a mental health reform measure is likely to be included as well.

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Both parties have been struggling for months to find ways to pay for billions of dollars in new funding for medical research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as part of the innovation bill, called 21st Century Cures.

They are now almost past the finish line on a deal that would allow the measure to pass the House the first week that Congress returns after Thanksgiving. The Senate would then be expected to take it up before Congress leaves in December as well.

“We are very close to a final agreement,” Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the measure’s lead sponsor, told reporters Thursday. “It's not quite done, but it in essence is.”

The measure is aimed at speeding up the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of new drugs and investing money in research at the National Institutes of Health.

It will include funding for Vice President Biden’s cancer moonshot as well, which Biden has been working with lawmakers on ensuring.

“He’s been very constructive,” Upton said of Biden.

Rep. Gene GreenRaymond (Gene) Eugene GreenTexas New Members 2019 Two Democrats become first Texas Latinas to serve in Congress Latina Leaders to Watch 2018 MORE (D-Texas) said that the funding level for the NIH is likely to be below the $8.75 billion over five years that was in the original bill.

Some outside experts have also expressed concerns that the measure could speed up approvals too much at the FDA, lowering safety standards — criticisms dismissed by the bill’s authors, who say they are seeking to maintain safety standards.

A push by liberals to include measures fighting high drug prices flopped after Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump, Biden set for tight battle in Florida We need to be 'One America,' the polling says — and the politicians should listen Poll shows Biden with 6-point edge on Trump in Florida MORE's loss in the presidential election, removing leverage in the coming administration.

Another long-awaited bill, a mental health measure from Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), is likely to be included with the Cures bill, either as an amendment or as part of the underlying measure, Upton said.

Murphy’s bill has been scaled down from its original, more sweeping version. But the recent edition of the measure would create a new assistant secretary role in the Department of Health and Human Services to oversee mental health and substance abuse programs.

The role is intended for a doctor, which Murphy touts as a way to improve the oversight of federal mental health programs that he views as currently ineffective.

The bill also authorizes grants for areas such as preventing suicide and early intervention for children with mental illnesses.

The final package is likely to include a mix of Murphy's bill in the House and a similar measure in the Senate from Sens. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyCoronavirus watch: Where the virus is spiking across the country New Jersey governor closing parks, forests Democrats seize on Trump's firing of intelligence community watchdog MORE (D-Conn.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.).