Healthcare

Warren slams cures bill as handout to ‘Big Pharma’

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Monday slammed a bipartisan medical innovation bill as a handout to “Big Pharma,” saying on the Senate floor that she would oppose the measure.

Warren, a leading progressive champion, accused Republicans of going back on their deal to balance measures to speed up the approval process for new drugs with more money for medical research.

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She said the funding in the latest version of the bill, $4.8 billion over 10 years, is far too little for what is needed at the National Institutes of Health and other agencies.

“[Republicans] have reneged on that promise and let Big Pharma hijack the cures bill,” Warren said. “This final deal has only a tiny fig leaf of funding, for NIH and for the opioid crisis.”

She noted that the funding is no longer mandatory, meaning that it is subject to the annual appropriations process, though defenders point out that it is still set aside in a special fund not subject to the usual budget caps and with specific ways to pay for it.

Consumer groups have also been warning that the bill’s changes to the Food and Drug Administration’s approval process could lower safety standards.

Warren said the research funding that is in the bill, as well as $1 billion over two years to fight opioid addiction, is nothing but “political cover for huge giveaways to giant drug companies.”

Other Democrats, however, support the measure. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) is its leading sponsor in the House, and more Democrats are expected to back it.

As the bill was moving through the Senate health committee, Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) broke with other Democrats to oppose some of its provisions.

Incoming Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) has not announced a position on the bill yet.

Warren accused Republicans of trying to “buy off” Democratic votes by including a few good provisions in the bill.

She noted, for example, that it includes mental health reform provisions that she supports. But she said those provisions are not enough to win her over.

Warren is aligned with Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) on one issue. Both senators on Monday criticized a provision in the bill weakening disclosure requirements for payments drug companies make to doctors.

The bill is set for a House vote on Wednesday, and the Senate is expected to take it up soon after. 

Tags Bernie Sanders Charles Schumer Chuck Grassley Elizabeth Warren

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