Lawmakers reach deal to vote on Cures, mental health bills


Lawmakers have reached a deal to consider a medical innovation bill and a mental health reform measure on the House floor next week.

{mosads}The bills will be combined into a single package and tucked into the shell of a suspender measure that already passed both chambers, enabling lawmakers to expedite consideration of the legislation.

The compromise comes after bill sponsors have been pushing for well over a year to get both measures over the finish line in Congress.

A final deal is not completely in hand yet, though, despite the release of the new language. A senior Democratic aide said talks are ongoing among congressional leadership.  

The House Rules Committee will set debate guidelines for the package on Tuesday, with the Senate expected to take it up sometime before Congress leaves in December.

Both parties have been struggling 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.

The measure, backed by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), is aimed at speeding up the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of new drugs and includes a $4.8 billion investment over 10 years for research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). 

How to pay for that funding in a bipartisan way was the subject of months of tough negotiations. This final funding amount is a significant cut from the $8.75 billion over five years that was in the original House bill. 

The new spending is paid for in part through cutting $3.5 billion from ObamaCare’s Prevention and Public Health Fund, a cut that had drawn some resistance from Democrats. The measure also raises some money by selling oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. 

Vice President Biden gets a win in the legislation through $1.8 billion given to funding cancer research as part of his cancer “moonshot.”

The measure also provides $1 billion over two years to fight opioid abuse, a bipartisan priority. 

Another long-awaited bill, a mental health measure from Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), is also being included, though it has been scaled down from its original, more sweeping version.

The mental health portion of the legislation establishes a new assistant secretary for mental health in the Department of Health and Human Services as well as a chief medical officer. Murphy argues that these positions will bring more accountability and medical knowledge to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an agency he has criticized as ineffective. 

The bill also authorizes grants for areas like suicide prevention. 

Democrats argue, though, that funding far beyond what is provided in this bill is needed to remedy a drastic shortage in treatment options for people with mental health problems.

For example, the bill does not lift certain restrictions on Medicaid paying for care at mental health facilities, a priority but one that would have cost billions of dollars.   

The measure also includes some provisions from a Senate mental health bill from Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.). 

Republicans have portrayed this mental health measure as their response to mass shootings. Democrats, though, have long said that gun control, not just mental health measures, are needed. 

The bill also includes some criminal justice measures, like funding for treatment as an alternative to incarceration for mentally ill people. 

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