Lawmakers Just Gave A Giant Corporate Handout to Big Pharma, And Bernie Sanders Is Furious (VIDEO)

Lawmakers Just Gave A Giant Corporate Handout to Big Pharma, And Bernie Sanders Is Furious (VIDEO)

The U.S. Senate passed legislation Wednesday that provides funds for cancer and Alzheimer’s research, streamlines the way the FDA approves medication, combats the opioid epidemic and increases access to mental health treatment. Now the legislation is on its way to President Obama’s desk, The Daily Beast reports. And given that the outgoing President used his most recent weekly address to urge the law’s passage, he is expected to sign it. But while the GOP is patting itself on the back for giving Obama this “Christmas gift,” it has Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) worried.

Sanders and Warren voice worries, get ignored

Called the 21st Century Cures Act, the legislation was passed by the House of Representatives last week, by a vote of 392—26.

Despite Warren and Sanders’ concerns, it didn’t prevent Republicans from crowing.

“For the second consecutive year, the Senate is sending the President another Christmas miracle for his signature,” said GOP Senator Lamar Alexander. The measure, he said, “will help virtually every American family.”

It’s true that the legislation has a number of supporters — passing 94 — 5 in a vote in the Senate, but Sanders and Warren have some key concerns.

Critics of the measure — including Warren and Sanders — say it lowers standards for drug approvals and rewards the pharmaceutical industry with unnecessary handouts.

Consumer watchdog Public Citizen notes:

“This gift — which 1,300 lobbyists, mostly from pharmaceutical companies, helped sell — comes at the expense of patient safety by undermining requirements for ensuring safe and effective medications and medical devices.”

In late November, both Sanders and Warren denounced the legislation, saying it does little to address skyrocketing drug prices, The Hill reports. They also said the measure includes provisions that lower FDA regulations and offers too many rewards for drug companies. Both voted against the bill.

“At a time when Americans pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs, this bill provides absolutely no relief for soaring drug prices,” Sanders said in a statement. “The greed of the pharmaceutical industry has no limit, and this bill includes numerous corporate giveaways that will make drug companies even richer.”

He also said the bill shouldn’t pass “in its current form.” Which, unfortunately it did. But Sanders also said this, at the time:

“It’s time for Congress to stand up to the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies, not give them more handouts.”

And for her part, Warren criticized the bill for “offering huge giveaways” to the drug industry, STAT reported in November.

“I cannot vote for this bill,” Warren said from the Senate floor. “I will fight it because I know the difference between compromise and extortion.”

Earlier, she noted funding for the NIH for medical research in the current legislation little more than a fig leaf.

“And most of that fig leaf isn’t even real,” Warren said. “Most of the money won’t really be there unless future Congresses pass future bills in future years to spend those dollars.”

So what does the bill offer?

The $6.3 billion act is sponsored by Republican Rep. Fred Upton. It authorizes $4.8 billion for the National Institutes of Health and $500 million to the Food and Drug Administration, Reuters reports. 

The act also calls for $1 billion over a two-year period to fight the opioid epidemic. On Tuesday, the Drug Enforcement Administration released a report showing that drug poisoning claimed the lives of about 129 people every day, and out of these deaths, 61 percent are opioid or heroin related.

“Opioids such as heroin and fentanyl—and diverted prescription pain pills—are killing people in this country at a horrifying rate,” said Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg. “We face a public health crisis of historic proportions.”

Cancer research will also receive a shot in the arm to the tune of $1.8 billion in funding, thanks to Vice President Joseph Biden’s Cancer Moonshot initiative. The initiative is designed to aid cancer research by reducing bureaucratic red tape and promoting collaborative research.

Related: Joe Biden’s Parting Gift: Ushering $6.3 Billion Health Bill Into Law

But critics say that the money described in the bill must be appropriated by separate funding bills. Not only that, but the money may never materialize. Even so, changes to the clinical trial process, which the drug industry has been advocating for, will be implemented regardless of whether money for research projects is set aside.

What are some of the changes?

More credence will be given to “real world” evidence that’s gathered outside the restrictive framework of randomized, controlled clinical trials, something that has long been the go-to method for determine if a drug is safe and effective. This type of evidence may well be easier for drug companies to collect, Reuters reports.

And some are optimistic about the passage of the Act.

“The passing of 21st Century Cures Act is a show of extraordinary bipartisan unity after a divisive election that should be celebrated,” said Ellen Sigal, chair of the patient advocacy group Friends of Cancer Research.

It’s likely she’s optimistic because patient input will be formally incorporated into the FDA’s drug review process.

But…

Funding for the Act will be offset by reducing some Medicaid payments. It will also come from the sale of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. And while the White House supports the bill, it has also previously voiced concerns that draining the Petroleum Reserve “continues a bad precedent of selling off longer term energy security assets to satisfy near-term budget scoring needs.”

Now keep in mind that Big Pharma profits massively from opioid addiction, meaning there’s no reason (other than corporate greed), to legally pick the pockets of Medicaid recipients.

No wonder Bernie Sanders is angry.

Watch the Ring of Fire Network’s Farron Cousins discuss why this bill is wrongheaded:

[brid video=”83709″ player=”5260″ tite=”The 21st Century Cures Act Is Hazardous To Your Health”]

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.