House Passes 21st Century Cures Bill

This week, the House passed the 21st Century Cures Act, H.R. 34, which provides funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to conduct health research and for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to speed up the approval process for drugs used in regenerative medicine. The bill includes $1.6 billion over 10 years for NIH's role in the BRAIN Initiative, which is $53 million less than what was originally included. The intention is that this funding would be in addition to the BRAIN Initiative funding provided by the annual appropriations bill. The bill establishes the Precision Medicine Initiative to help researchers develop medicines tailored to individuals, rather than one-size-fits-all treatments. The bill also authorizes grants for suicide prevention and $1 billion to address the opioid epidemic.

Mental health provisions supported by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) were included to reorganize and improve accountability for government mental health programs. The bill establishes a new assistant secretary for mental health in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), as well as a chief medical officer. The bill generally requires states to use at least 10 percent of their mental health block grants on early intervention for psychosis, using a model called coordinated specialty care, which provides a team of specialists to provide psychotherapy, medication, education, and support for patients' families, as well as services to help young people stay in school or keep their jobs. Rep. Murphy is a psychologist who treats patients with PTSD and TBI at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. The Senate is expected to take the bill up before adjourning this session.

Veterans Mobility Safety Act of 2016
On Nov. 17, the Senate unanimously passed the Veterans Mobility Safety Act of 2016, introduced by Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kans.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), to assist veterans with disabilities in purchasing automobiles and adaptive equipment that accommodates their disabilities. The bill also authorizes the Department of Veterans Affairs to hire audiologists, ENTs, hearing aid specialists, and other stakeholder and industry groups to expand resources for veterans with hearing-related disabilities.

Congressional Leadership Changes
On Wednesday, House Democrats re-elected Nancy Pelosi to continue as the House Minority Leader in the upcoming Congress. Also elected this week was Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) to chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee, replacing Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who has termed out of the position. Health care legislation, including TBI legislation, comes before this committee. California Gov. Jerry Brown announced his appointment of House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra to succeed newly-elected Sen. Kamala Harris as the California's attorney general. Rep. Becerra's position as representative will be open until a successor is named.