Thursday, December 08, 2016

Big new health law includes money to fight opioid abuse; Vilsack says much needed in rural areas

Congress passed legislation Wednesday that will, among other things, increase funding for medical research and speed up the federal approval of new drugs and medical devices. It now heads to President Barack Obama's desk for his signature.

Obama said in a statement, "We are now one step closer to ending cancer as we know it, unlocking cures for diseases like Alzheimer’s, and helping people seeking treatment for opioid addiction finally get the help they need. . . . This bill will make a big difference."

The legislation provides $1 billion for the heroin and opioid epidemic, $1.8 billion for Vice President Joe Biden's "moonshot" initiative to cure cancer and nearly $3 billion for the BRAIN and Precision Medicine Initiatives, which targets diseases like Alzheimer's. It also has measures to improve mental-health treatment and to speed up the federal approval process for drugs and medical devices.

The $1 billion for opioid prevention efforts and expanded access to treatment for substance use disorders is to be spent over the next two years in $500 million allotments. The money will be allocated through need-based grants.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
"These additional resources are particularly critical in rural areas, where rates of opioid misuse and overdose are high, access to treatment is limited, and patients who seek treatment are often met with waitlists that can mean the difference between life and death," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.

NPR reports that the bill is "the most significant piece of mental health legislation since the 2008 law requiring equal insurance coverage for mental and physical health," called parity.

Among other things, the measure strengthens the enforcement of requirements to treat behavioral disorders like other diseases, includes grants to increase the number of mental-health providers, works to promote early intervention for psychosis and creates a new position to oversee the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. It also eliminates the Medicaid "same day" exclusion, which prohibits separate payment for mental health and primary care services to a Medicaid enrollee on the same day.

But not everyone loves the bill. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., warned that the bill is a giveaway to pharmaceutical companies, will weaken regulatory standards on drugs, doesn't provide enough money for medical research and does nothing to address the rising cost of medications, Fortune. Other senators voting against the bill were Ron Wyden, D-Ore. and Mike Lee, R-Utah.

No comments: