President Barack Obama signed off on the 21st Century Cures Act earlier this week, officially turning the $6.3 billion bipartisan-supported bill into law. The funds will provide support for research, services, and organizations across a wide range of healthcare initiatives over the next 10 years.
As what will almost certainly be the last bill signed by Obama during his tenure in the White House, the Cures Act represented a rare showing of endorsement across party lines while making its way through Congress. The House of Representatives passed the bill in a 392-26 vote on December 1, while the Senate followed a week later in a 94-5 approval.
“We are bringing to reality the possibility of new breakthroughs to some of the greatest health-care challenges of our time,” Obama said at the bill-signing ceremony. “It is wonderful to see how well Democrats and Republicans in the closing day of this Congress came together around a common cause. And I think it indicates the power of this issue and how deeply it touches every family across America.”
The bill includes $1.8 billion for the “Cancer Moonshot” research initiative championed by Vice President Joe Biden, as well as $1.56 billion for the BRAIN project, which plans to use new technologies to better map a picture of human cognitive functioning. Many of the other allocated funds go towards improving health information technology services and strengthening electronic health records data for patients and healthcare providers alike.
While there is much focus on advancing technologies and treatments, including vaccination programs that already prevent more than 2.5 million deaths every year, the Cures Act also provides funding to address the most pressing health concerns of the present, including the opioid epidemic and mental health crises currently gripping the nation.
States will receive a combined $1 billion in grants over the next two years to implement drug abuse prevention and treatment programs. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will also establish two new positions for coordinating mental health and substance abuse research and treatment. Since 70% of mental health problems first appear during adolescence, it’s likely that the programs will focus on youth outreach and support.
Overall, the new law has received overwhelming praise from the healthcare sector as well. The American Society for Clinical Oncology, the American Society of Human Genetics, the Coalition to Stop Opioid Overdose, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Heart Association have all applauded Congress’s efforts to pass the bill quickly and efficiently.
“It’s personal,” said Michigan Representative Fred Upton of the bill’s success. He also oversaw the authorship of its more than 1,000 pages of text. “People have family members with Alzheimer’s, people have family members who died of breast cancer. They see children with these awful diseases. This is the answer.”