Lawmakers react to the passage of the 21st Century Cures Act

After a long and contentious presidential campaign, the United States is in the last few days of the Obama administration, and many are wondering how the imminent Trump administration will affect Americans. As Donald Trump warns that he and the Republicans will “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, referred to as Obamacare, many Americans are apprehensive about future health care availability and cost.

The 21st Century Cures Act, H.R.35, was signed into law by President Obama on Dec. 13, 2016. The Senate voted 94 to 5 to pass the bill, and the House vote was in favor with a vote of 392 to 26.

The signing of the legislation, according to the Washington Post, makes available $4.8 billion earmarked for the National Institutes of Health. $1.8 billion of that amount will be allocated to the “cancer moonshot” initiated by Vice President Joe Biden who lost his son Beau in 2015 to a brain tumor. A further $1.6 billion is aimed at research on brain diseases including Alzheimer’s disease. $500 million goes to funding the Food and Drug Administration, and $1 billion goes to grants to enable individual states in the fight against opioid abuse.

In spite of the lopsided votes to pass the bill, not all lawmakers share the same opinion about the bill’s effects.

Support for the bill

Mental Health America (MHA) applauded the passage of the bill, praising Congress and several individual representatives including Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Reps. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) for their diligence. A variety of other senators and congressmen, including members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, for working together on bipartisan reforms.

MHA was founded in 1909 by Clifford W. Beers, a patient with bipolar disorder who witnessed cruel treatment of institutionalized people with mental illness. He suffered abuse himself in a psychiatric hospital and was once forced to wear a straightjacket for 21 consecutive nights. MHA is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping all Americans live mentally healthier lives. Their work is guided by the Before Stage 4 (B4 Stage-4) philosophy, that mental health conditions should be treated long before they reach the most critical points in the disease process.

The passage of the 21st Century Cures Act will:

  • Strengthen the government’s role in improving mental health care
  • Foster screening and early intervention, particularly in children
  • Advance evidence-based initiatives to address mental illness before Stage 4
  • Encourage family support and patient privacy
  • Spotlight community services while reducing incarceration and homelessness
  • Increase employment
  • Support guidance and oversight
  • Preserve SAMHSA, adding rather than removing funding
  • Increase the number of professional behavioral health workers

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee said the bill was a “Christmas miracle that will help virtually every American family.”

Criticism of the bill

Opposing the passage of the bill were Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) who stated that the bill’s changes to the drug approval processes gave too many concessions to pharmaceutical companies. Public Citizen, a progressive activist group, opposed the bill calling it “sorely disappointing that Congress gave Big Pharma and the medical device industry an early Christmas present that comes at the expense of patient safety by undermining requirements for ensuring safe and effective medications and medical devices.”

Also voting against the bill were Mike Lee (R-Utah), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

Whether the Affordable Care Act or any other legislation relating to health care will be repealed remains to be seen. The U.S. Constitution does not allow a president to eliminate a law that has been passed by Congress. The process for repealing a law must begin in Congress and the House of Representatives must take a roll-call vote.

Mental health care both inpatient and outpatient is in short supply in the United States. Psychiatric Times reports that “Currently, there are about 35,000 state psychiatric beds available, or about 11 beds per 100,00 population.” Referring to the shortage of psychiatric beds as “a major problem” the site reports that patients are discharged prematurely and often have to be readmitted or end up homeless or incarcerated.

Sovereign Health understands the vital need for both affordable health care coverage and effective health care. Our behavioral health treatment centers use the latest modalities to treat mental health, substance abuse and co-occurring conditions. For more information, contact our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Veronica McNamara is a content writer for Sovereign Health. She is a former nurse who enjoys writing about the causes and treatment of addictions and behavioral health disorders. She is a proponent of further public education on the subject of mental illness which, unfortunately, still bears an unwarranted stigma. For more information about this media, please contact the author at

January 11, 2017

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