What is the 21st Century Cures Act?


In December of 2016, Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law. The final law comes in at just over 1,000 pages and touches on a number of facets within the medical industry, including deregulation of the pharmaceutical industry, state funding to fight the opioid epidemic and measures to help mental health initiatives across the country, among others. The law states that it is intended to speed up the research, discovery and implementation of modern cures.

5 goals of the new law
In December, the White House released a statement describing five important measures within the 21st Century Cures Act. The law intends to:

  1. Accelerate the research of brain cancer as part of the National Cancer Institute's Cancer MoonshotSM project. The goal of this initiative is to condense 10 years of cancer research into five. The Cures Act provides the project with $1.8 billion in funding, according to PBS.
  2. Provide state funding for combating the opioid epidemic. The Cures Act allocates another $1 billion dollars in grants.
  3. Create new mental health programs to prevent suicide and help treat other mental health issues. This part of the law was drafted by representatives on both sides of the political aisle.
  4. Fund the BRAIN initiative, a program sponsored by the National Institutes of Health which seeks to develop a better understanding of how the brain functions. The initiative aims to continue the fight against Alzheimer's disease.
  5. Give additional resources to the Precision Medicine Initiative, research effort that seeks to develop unique treatments for cancer based on large-scale genetics and biology studies.
The Cures Act provides additional funding for advanced brain research.The Cures Act provides additional funding for advanced brain research.

What does this mean for physicians?
Physicians could see a flood of new prescription drugs and medical devices in the coming years, as a result of deregulation for the pharmaceutical industry. Critics of the new law believe this could mean the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will have less of a say in which drugs and devices are approved for sale. PBS reported that the Cures Act directs the FDA to give more weight to real world evidence than randomized clinical trials. In other words, observational studies and anecdotal evidence could replace structured studies, thus accelerating the time it takes for new prescription medicines to get to market.

On the mental health front, physicians and their patients could see greater support from state governments, which will have more money to spend on initiatives bent on tackling problems, especially for veterans. How these projects will actually manifest is yet to be seen.

Perhaps the biggest win for physicians is the increased funding to states for battling the opioid epidemic. According to The Washington Post, the law gives states $500 million to boost opioid abuse prevention programs. Since 1999 over 183,000 people have died from opioid-related overdoses, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Implementation of the law is still in its early phases. Throughout 2017, physicians are likely to see its effects take hold. Many are hopeful that research of advanced cures will accelerate, benefiting families across the country.

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