Weekly Columns

The Time for 21st Century Cures is Now

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Washington, December 7, 2016 | Tiffany Haverly (202-226-8072) | comments

This week, the Senate – following the House vote last week – passed the 21st Century Cures Act. This important legislation will provide critical funding to help find new treatments and cures for diseases; address the opioid crisis we’re seeing around the country; and make important reforms to our mental health care system. I was glad to support this bipartisan bill because I strongly believe this legislation will help many Tennesseans.

As a physician, I treated patients for more than 30 years. When I graduated medical school 45 years ago, my first pediatric rotation was at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. During that time, a majority of the children with cancer I treated as a young medical student died because of their disease. Today, almost 90 percent of those children live because of advances we’ve made in scientific research to treat and cure diseases. But we have more work to do.

I’ve experienced first-hand what a devastating, incurable disease can do to a family. There are 10,000 known conditions and diseases, and we only have cures and treatments for 500 of them. Chances are, all of us know and love someone who has been diagnosed with an incurable, untreatable illness. Currently, it takes an average of 15 years for a new drug to move from a lab and be made available to a patient. For patients suffering and their families, 15 years is far too long. This bill will expedite the discovery, development and delivery of new treatments and cures by providing $4.8 billion in new funding to the NIH, funding that is fully offset. These dollars will be invested in research through groups like the Precision Medicine Initiative, Vice President Biden’s “Cancer Moonshot” and the BRAIN initiative, all in the hope that we will learn more about what causes these diseases and how we can better treat or cure them.

I was especially pleased the bill included provisions from H.R. 2646, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, which overwhelmingly passed the House last July. These provisions will improve mental health care for patients and families by replacing the administrator at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration with an Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Abuse to ensure mental health programs are coordinated across the federal government. Additionally, it strengthens the mental health workforce across the country. I believe these changes, as well as others included in the final package, will save lives.

Finally, the bill includes $1 billion in funding to help states like Tennessee curb opioid abuse. Last year the Tennessee Department of Health announced that opioid overdoses had reached epidemic proportions, and I’m glad this bill includes fully-offset funding to address this serious public health issue.

The 21st Century Cures Act is a bill that creates a path forward into the future when it comes to researching, treating and hopefully curing diseases. As I’ve said before, this legislation will usher in a new era for medicine, and I am proud this bill received broad, bipartisan support in the House and Senate. I look forward to seeing President Obama sign this bill into law. The time for 21st Century Cures is now.

Feel free to contact my office if I can be of assistance to you or your family.
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