21st Century Cures Act Poised to Alter Care Landscape

Added on Dec 15, 2016

21st Century Cures Act Poised to Alter Care Landscape
Industry Edge December 2016

As of early December, the much-talked-about 21st Century Cures Act is on its way to President Obama’s desk, where it is expected to be signed, sealed and delivered in short order.

The landmark piece of legislation, which is designed to speed up drug approvals, fund disease-specific research, expand access and, potentially, change how mental illness is diagnosed and treated, is also expected to influence downstream processes at the individual provider level.

In particular, several health care information technology (IT) provisions designed to improve electronic health records (EHRs) will “help get the nation’s electronic health record system out of the ditch” and reduce the burden for physicians struggling with over-documentation, according to Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

Specifically, the bill calls for the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) to work with care providers, insurers, IT developers, service providers and other stakeholders to establish a goal for reducing EHR regulatory or administrative burdens, such as documentation requirements. Under this provision, the HHS Secretary will have up to one year after the date the legislation is enacted to develop a strategy and recommendations to meet the burden-reduction goal.

The $6.3 billion bill also contains $4.8 billion in spending over 10 years for new research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), including the following:

  • $1.8 billion for the cancer research “moonshot” championed by Vice President Joe Biden
  • $1.56 billion for the BRAIN Initiative, a project to create new technologies that will allow for comprehensive mapping of the human brain
  • $1.4 billion for the Precision Medicine Initiative, a project supported by President Obama to collect genetic data on one million American volunteers that will be used to help develop new treatments

Additionally, states will receive grants worth $1 billion over the next two years for drug abuse prevention and treatment programs, including those aimed at fighting the opioid epidemic, strengthening laws mandating parity for mental and physical health care, and integrating and coordinating mental health care services.

The bill also authorizes the NIH to finance high-risk, high-reward research using special procurement procedures, rather than through conventional grants and contracts, and will establish “Eureka prize” competitions to advance medical research.

In his weekly address on December 3, President Obama promised to “sign [the bill] as soon as it reaches my desk.”