I had lunch this week with some former colleagues. One of the topics of discussion was the 21st Century Cures initiative that was approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee in May. Supporters such as Representative Frank Pallone state that it “will ensure that innovative treatments are getting to those who need them most, giving real hope to patients and their families.”
For those of you who may not have seen the non-IT details, the bill has significant goals:
- Reauthorize National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding through FY2018
- Establish an innovation fund at NIH
- Require strategic planning and greater accountability at NIH
- Increase funding for pediatric research
- Require sharing of data generated through NIH-funded research
- Standardize patient information across trials housed in ClinicalTrials.gov
- Establish a public-private Council for 21st Century Cures to “accelerate the discovery, development, and delivery of innovative cures, treatments, and preventive measures”
- Increase patient-focused drug development
- Require the FDA to issue guidance on precision medicine
- Streamline policy to facilitate development of new antibacterial and antifungal agents
- Formalize vaccine recommendation processes
- Modify FDA review requirements for certain categories of drugs and devices
Most of us have heard about the language on ensuring interoperability and “holding individuals responsible for blocking or otherwise inhibiting the flow of patient information throughout our healthcare system.” There is also a section on expanding telehealth under Medicare.
As a primary care physician, I also liked the section addressing issues where Medicare beneficiaries can’t get certain services covered because care is delivered in the home setting. My favorite part, though, is Medicare site-of-service price transparency. I hope all the health systems doing so-called “provider-based billing” take note of this. It’s going to be harder to trick patients into paying exorbitant facility fees if this makes it through. Rebranding free-standing physician offices as hospital departments as a thinly-veiled cash grab is one of the more despicable practices I see among hospitals and health systems.
The Senate is working on its own version of the bill, so it remains to be seen whether all of this passes, and if it does, how much the individual sections are modified. Funding research and cutting edge therapies is important, as is dealing with various Medicare oddities that complicate care delivery. In talking with my colleagues, however, we all balk a little at the call-out for precision medicine. Although it’s an interesting concept, is it really going to be pivotal for the majority of patients?
I’m a huge fan of public health. Basic sanitation and preventive measures have made a tremendous difference in quality of life for people around the world. However, I’d like to see more discussion (and also funding) of the basic health services that many people either cannot access or lack understanding of their value. It is still difficult to get insurance companies to pay for nutrition counseling or sessions with a registered dietician except for certain disease states. We can try to get patients to self-pay for these services, but it’s a difficult proposition when some are already paying large premiums for minimal coverage.
I’d like to have the time and resources to try to convince patients of the return on investment for these interventions (both in quality of life and lower health costs), but it’s hard to make headway during a 10-minute office visit. Watching Congress debate legislation that impacts rare diseases and drug development is difficult when one realizes how much work is still yet to be done on diseases that have 19th and 20th century cures already. A good number of the diseases on which we spend the most can be markedly improved (if not cured) through behavioral and lifestyle interventions, but these are the most difficult to implement. It’s much easier to take a pill for many Americans.
I’m not sure what primary care will look like in the next century. I can’t wait for the next generation to be able to scan patients with a Tricorder and synthesize antidotes and treatments Star Trek style. That seems such a long way away, though, when we’ve yet to figure out how to implement some of the basics such as universal vaccination, healthy eating habits, and regular exercise.
Looking back through the Bill’s history, I did see a small step that actually will make an immediate difference. At the same time the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee was hearing about 21st Century Cures, they were also considering HR 1321, the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015. It caught my eye because I’ve been aware of the microbead problem for a while, especially the fact that the US lags other countries in banning them. I must say, this Act is probably the shortest piece of legislation I’ve seen in a long time – a grand total of two pages and 14 numbered lines. If only Meaningful Use was that simple.
What’s your favorite Act of Congress? Email me.
Email Dr. Jayne.