'I Cannot Vote For This Bill': Elizabeth Warren Blasts Controversial 21st Century Cures Bill

By Kelly Burch 12/02/16

Warren says the bill, which would modernize the way drugs are approved, caters to pharmaceutical interests.

'I Cannot Vote For This Bill': Elizabeth Warren Blasts Controversial 21st Century Cures Bill

A massive medical bill is quickly making its way through Congress this week, with bipartisan supporters saying it will open the door for new funding for health institutions and faster approval for medical advances, while opponents argue that the bill caters too heavily to the pharmaceutical industry and other special interests. 

The "21st Century Cures Act" is nearly 1,000 pages long, and includes more funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and $1 billion to fight the opioid epidemic, along with funding for other national health projects. The bill also promises faster approval for new medical devices and medications.

However, some Senate Democrats, led by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, say the bill caters to pharmaceutical interests, propelled by more than 1,455 lobbyists that had a hand in the legislation, according to Kaiser Health News

"I cannot vote for this bill," Warren said on the Senate floor, according to STAT News. “I will fight it because I know the difference between compromise and extortion.”

Warren said that the bill’s funding for the NIH is a “fig leaf,” an insignificant amount. On Wednesday, the House passed the $6.3 billion bill, which is now heading to the Senate. “And most of that fig leaf isn’t even real,” said Warren. “Most of the money won’t really be there unless future Congresses pass future bills in future years to spend those dollars.”

The funding for NIH and other worthy projects does little to counteract the immense problems with the bill, Warren said. These include a provision that would exempt companies from disclosing fees given to doctors, and another that would allow companies to market drugs for unapproved uses. 

Warren wasn’t alone in her concerns. "It is a massive bill that has scattered throughout a grab bag of goodies for the medical device and pharmaceutical industries," Dr. Michael Carome, director of Public Citizen Health Research Group, told NPR

The FDA has already taken steps to speed up the process for drug approvals, but some research found that many of the drugs approved through this channel are not particularly effective. "What's happening is we are flooding the market with medical products that don't work very well, or we don't know whether they work,” Diana Zuckerman, who heads the National Center for Health Research, told NPR

Warren was unabashed in calling out what she perceives as the sleazy politics behind the bill. She talked about a major Republican donor who would benefit from some of the changes in the law. 

“This megadonor has poured millions of dollars into Mitch McConnell’s personal campaign coffers and into his Republican super PAC, and now he wants his reward,” she said. “So the Cures act offers to sell government favors.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.