The U.S. House of Representatives Friday passed a bill aimed at introducing medical breakthroughs faster to market. The state’s delegation split 2-2 on the bill.
H.R. 6, the 21st Century Cures Act, passed by a bipartisan vote of 344-77. Third District Rep. Steve Womack, a co-sponsor, and 2nd District Rep. French HIll voted for the bill. Voting no were 1st District Rep. Rick Crawford and 4th District Rep. Bruce Westerman.
The bill would create an “Innovation Fund” of $1.75 billion per year for five years for the National Institutes of Health and $110 million per year for five years for the Food and Drug Administration.
The bill includes a number of provisions meant to expedite the introduction of new drugs and medical products to market. Among its many provisions, payments would be increased for new antimicrobial drugs. It would require the FDA to establish a priority review program for breakthrough medical devices. The NIH would be allowed to require data from scientific research it funds to be shared. The FDA would be allowed to rely upon previous data to hasten the development of certain drugs. The bill would encourage the exchange of health information technology. Health software largely would be exempted from FDA regulations.
The bill, which now heads to the Senate, has 230 bipartisan House co-sponsors and has the support of more than 700 groups.
Womack said in a statement, “The NIH and the FDA have played a critical role in ensuring that Americans have access to the safest and most cutting-edge drugs in the world. However, ever-increasing regulation from Washington has stifled innovation and slowed – even prevented – life-saving medications and medical devices from entering our health care delivery system. By cutting red tape, increasing accountability, and making critical investment in medical research, the 21st Century Cures Act will pave the way for a new era of medical innovation, which will not only help save lives, but also reduce our deficit and strengthen our economy.”
Hill said in a statement, “Every Arkansan knows someone who has faced, or is facing, the daunting challenge of battling an illness that has no known cure. This bill provides critical funding in a deficit-reducing manner to the National Institutes of Health and ensures that great research institutions like Little Rock’s University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Arkansas Children’s Hospital can sustain their search for cures to the diseases that cost our health care system and hardworking Americans billions of dollars and take millions of lives each year.”
Crawford and Westerman said they supported the bill’s aims but not its funding, which comes from mandatory spending, the part of the budget over which Congress has less annual control.
In a statement from his office, Crawford said, “The 21st Century Cures Act created new mandatory spending not subject to the annual congressional appropriations process, and for that reason I could not support it. Considering that runaway mandatory spending has resulted in our unsustainable national debt of more than $18 trillion, I could not vote for additional unchecked spending in good conscience. Unfortunately, an amendment that would have subjected the program to the annual appropriations process failed, and If that amendment had passed, I would have supported the legislation.”
Westerman said, “I support research for cures to disease and I wholeheartedly support the National Institutes of Health, and I’m in 100% support of this 21st Century Cures policy. I voted for the Brat amendment that would have made the spending discretionary and would have voted for the bill with the Brat amendment, which failed. I serve on the Budget Committee, and 21st Century Cures violates mandatory spending limits set by the budget I helped develop and passed through Congress this year. Quite simply, this bill is on the wrong side of the ledger. It is my hope that the Senate takes up the bill, removes the mandatory program provisions, and shifts funding to the discretionary spending so I get a chance to support the bill by concurring with the Senate.”