21st Century Cures legislation is a model for health care reform

WASHINGTON – Having served Northern Michigan as a doctor for over three decades, I have seen the pain that uncured illnesses cause the patient and their family. Just last week, I was sitting at a coffee shop in Traverse City, and I spoke with a man whose college-aged daughter was recently diagnosed with a rare muscular condition. She’s had to drop out of sporting activities, she can’t carry her own books at school, and as a result, she’s turned inward and become depressed. These conditions affect more than those who are ill they affect all of us, and we must work to find cures that can improve the lives of those who are in need.

Technology is advancing at a rapid pace. So many things that once required us to travel a great distance or wait weeks at a time can now be done instantly from a smartphone or a tablet. Yet in medicine, we seem to be still stuck in the 1970s. Regulations that govern medical research haven’t been updated in decades, and resources like phone apps and web technology have been left in regulatory gray areas when they could be put to work to help the sick.

That’s why I recently voted in favor of H.R. 6, the 21st Century Cures Act, which was authored by my Michigan Colleague, Rep. Fred Upton. This bill does so much to modernize our medical research systems, bringing them up to date with technological advancements and medical best practices. By embracing a personalized approach to medicine, 21st Century Cures allows patients to be treated based on their unique characteristics and needs. A one-size-fits-all approach does not work for business or education, and it certainly does not work in medicine.

Personalized medicine will also revolutionize the process of clinical trials which are used to develop new therapy techniques for disease. By allowing patient generated registries, which permits individuals with a particular disease to share the details of their condition with researchers, those who are developing innovative cures will have access to the data they need to find groundbreaking cures. Additionally, this legislation will allow for the use of cutting edge medical trial designs, while eliminating the need for scientists to spend time filling out duplicative and unnecessary paperwork.

21st Century Cures will also provide regulatory certainty to those who are developing and using mobile applications for medical research. By allowing willing participants to share medical information through their phones and devices, researchers can have unprecedented access to critical data on those suffering from rare and uncured disease. Utilizing data in this way has improved our lives in almost every other arena, but in medicine, regulations have kept us behind the curve. This bill fixes that, and not a moment too soon.

The young woman who I referenced in the opening of this piece suffers from a condition that affects very few people. With rare diseases such as these, there is often little financial incentive on behalf of medical researchers to search for cures. In Congress, we have addressed this issue by creating a $1.75 billion Innovation Fund through the National Institute for Health that will be paid for through changes to way we manage our energy reserves. Not only will this fund be used to invest in up-and-coming researchers at all stages in their career, it will also be used to create powerful and effective economic incentives that encourage scientists to look for cures to rare diseases. A rare disease can be a devastating diagnosis for many families, and I believe that through this bill we can provide a beacon of hope to those who are suffering a reminder that they have not been forgotten or left behind.

The 21st Century Cures Act underscores what we can accomplish when we work together on a bipartisan basis to develop patient centered solutions to health care reform. That’s why this bill passed the House with the support of the vast majority of members in both parties. Health care reform need not be a divisive and partisan issue. When we take the focus off of taxes, mandates, and regulations, and instead place the emphasis on healing the sick, we can achieve popular reforms that truly improve lives while keeping health care costs low. That is what I am working to do in Congress, because as a doctor, I know that curing the patient is what matters the most.

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Congressman Dr. Dan Benishek represents Michigan’s 1st District in the U.S. House of Representatives, which includes Delta, Schoolcraft and Menom