WASHINGTON — The 21st Century Cures Act, which speeds up approval of medical devices and drugs and sets up a sweeping medical research framework for everything from Alzheimer’s disease to opioid addiction, passed the last technical barrier to adoption in the U.S. Senate Monday.
The bill is now assured an overwhelming approval vote and the president’s signature in the days to come.
A landslide 85-13 cloture vote ended debate on the bill Monday afternoon in the Senate.
The bipartisan decision mirrored a similar avalanche of support in the House last week. The $6.3 billion bill has the Obama administration’s support.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, called the bill’s broad approach and widespread support “significant” in a chamber often unable to act because of partisan gridlock.
In an interview, Klobuchar cited as highlights funding for the National Institutes of Health and research initiatives for cancer and Alzheimer’s disease that the Mayo Clinic will participate in, as well as $1 billion set aside for fighting the country’s opioid addiction crisis, a cause she helped lead. She also cited an eating-disorders treatment initiative in the bill that was advocated by Kitty Westin of Minnesota, whose daughter Anna died of an eating disorder.
One thing that did not survive the something-for-everyone approach was a measure that would have restricted some public disclosure of payments device and drug companies make to doctors.
Opposition to such secrecy led that measure to be stripped from the bill, Klobuchar said.
Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota voted to end debate on the bill.
“The Cures Act includes some important provisions that will help accelerate the development of new treatments,” he said in a statement. “Although it’s disappointing that the measure doesn’t do nearly enough to fund medical research or to address high prescription costs, I’m pleased that the bill will make much-needed changes to our mental health policies — including provisions that I wrote to reform how mental illness is handled in the criminal justice system.”
Shortly before votes were cast Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell asked to rename the cancer section of the bill for Democratic Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Beau, who died of cancer. Joe Biden championed a “cancer moonshot” placed in the act in hopes of finding a cure for that dreaded disease.
Among the few senators who did not want to end debate on the bill were Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Sanders campaigned hard for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, losing eventually to Hillary Clinton.
Warren, a high-profile Democrat, last week offered a scathing review of what she said were the act’s concessions to the drug and device industries to allow promotion of products for uses not approved by the FDA.
At the same time, Warren said the bill did nothing to control “skyrocketing prices of drugs.”
“I will fight this bill, because I know the difference between compromise and exploitation,” Warren said in a Senate floor speech last week.
Jim Spencer • 202-662-7432