Senate Clears Cures Act; Next Stop, the White House

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The 21st Century Cures Act sailed through the Senate (94-5) and is on its way to the White House, where President Obama has promised his signature.

Surprising new details are likely to emerge for weeks about the pork contained in the most heavily lobbied bill in recent history. Merrill Goozner, publisher of Modern Healthcare, noted this week that the length of the legislation passed was 600 pages longer than the original legislation, with a final weigh-in of 996 pages.

An additional $4.8 billion in funding for medical research has been widely reported, but requires annual appropriation from Congress. Broken down in annual increments, $480 million represents just one quarter of the funding in the version the House passed last year, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) told the New York Times

The pharmaceutical and medical device industries will benefit from expedited (and therefore less expensive) approval processes. The FDA, in reviewing new devices, is required to consider the “least burdensome” means of showing their safety, the Times reported.  “When the cost of our prescription drugs is skyrocketing, this bill does nothing to combat excessive prices,” Rep. DeLauro told the Times.

Here are some new details not included in last week’s coverage of the House’s passage of the bill:

  • easing of the site-neutral payment policy for hospital outpatient services through extension of the grandfather date exempting off-campus hospital outpatient departments (HOPDs) under development prior to Nov. 2, 2015, now extended to all outpatient centers in operation prior to Dec. 31, 2016, or 60 days after enactment, whichever is later, cost $760 million;
  • an adjustment of the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program to account for socioeconomic status;
  • creation of a new assistant secretary for mental health and substance abuse, to be appointed by the President;
  • a requirement to step-up enforcement of parity laws that require equal insurance coverage for mental and physical illnesses.

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