On November 30, 2016, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an amended “21st Century Cures” bill by a 392-26 vote. The bill covers a diverse range of topics, such as: medical research, development of drugs and medical devices, interoperability of electronic health record systems, and mental health/substance use disorder (MH/SUD) programs.
MH/SUD provisions in the House bill (H.R. 34, as amended) seek to ensure that such programs keep pace with science and technology, encourage innovation and evidence-based practices, and improve access to state-based prevention initiatives. The bill looks to integrate MH/SUD services with primary care in community-based settings, support state efforts to reduce opioid abuse, strengthen early intervention and mental health crisis response systems, prevent suicides, and address the needs of high-risk populations such as veterans and homeless persons. The bill would also seek to clarify Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy requirements to facilitate medical professionals’ communications with other caregivers, the patient’s family members, and law enforcement officials, in the best interests of a mentally ill patient not willing or able to authorize disclosure of protected health information.
New grant funding for cancer research championed by Vice-President Biden is included in the bill, along with provisions to expedite Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of critical medicines supported by Senate Majority Leader McConnell, and additional funding under the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for research on Alzheimer’s disease and related conditions. President Obama has strongly urged Senate approval before adjournment on or about December 16, 2016.