Lame-Duck Congress Sets Sights on Passage of 21st Century Cures Bill

President-elect Donald Trump has ignited uncertainty about the future of healthcare in America, as he has pledged to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act when he enters the White House. In the meantime, bipartisan lawmakers hope to continue funding for the Precision Medicine Initiative and Cancer Moonshot by passing the 21st Century Cures legislation in the lame-duck Congress.

President-elect Donald Trump has ignited uncertainty about the future of healthcare in America, as he has pledged to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act when he enters the White House. In the meantime, bipartisan lawmakers hope to continue funding for the Precision Medicine Initiative and Cancer Moonshot by passing the 21st Century Cures legislation in the lame-duck Congress.

The 21st Century Cures Act would provide $9 million in funding for new medical research, including provisions to support the Cancer Moonshot and Precision Medicine Initiative. It would also accelerate biomedical research under the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by creating the NIH and Cures Innovation Fund, which would receive $1.86 billion every year through 2020.

President Barack Obama launched the Cancer Moonshot in January 2016 with an initial backing of $1 billion, but its future is dependent on continued funding from Congress. Vice President Joe Biden, the leader of the initiative to speed up cancer research, recently delivered the Cancer Moonshot report developed by a Blue Ribbon Panel of experts. It highlighted the continuation of technological advances in cancer prevention and screening efforts as a key priority in achieving the Moonshot’s goal of seeing a decade’s worth of progress in 5 years. Another of Obama’s efforts, the Precision Medicine Initiative, began in January 2015 with $215 million in funding and supports the research of personalized treatments tailored to each patient’s genetic makeup and individual characteristics.

The 21st Century Cures Act passed in the House of Representatives last year, but the Senate has not yet passed it. Bipartisan members of the Senate say that its approval is a top priority in the interim before Trump is inaugurated. Prior to the election, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said that the bill “could end up being the most significant piece of legislation we pass in the whole Congress." Before Election Day, McConnell reiterated his commitment to passing it in the lame-duck session because “no matter who does win in November, we still have the same government in place until the end of the year and we need to accomplish as much as we can for the American people in the limited amount of time that we have left.”

The leaders of the Senate health committee, Senators Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, and Patty Murra, D-Washington, also pledged to continue their work on the bipartisan legislation as they remain “committed to getting a result this year that will lead to lifesaving medical breakthroughs and advance President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative and Vice President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot.”

Congress now faces increased pressure to approve the legislation before Trump becomes president due to the uncertainty of his support for the bill, as he had never mentioned it during the campaign. A possible encouraging sign is his consideration of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for HHS secretary. In 2015, Gingrich wrote an op-ed for The New York Times in which he advocated doubling the NIH’s budget, calling health “both a moral and financial issue” for the government.

“The insights from genetics, personalized medicine and regenerative therapies could potentially lead to substantially longer and healthier lives for many. But to achieve that promise will require a greater budget,” wrote Gingrich.