As we wrap up 2016 and look back on our accomplishments and what remains to be done, I know there are many major issues that Congress must still address in a meaningful way: the economy, climate change, the cost of health care, comprehensive immigration reform and big money in politics, to name a few.
But I am proud to be a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, one of the few committees that successfully worked in a bipartisan manner to pass several major bills and dozens of smaller bills. Among other things, these efforts preserved seniors’ access to their doctors and ended the perennial uncertainty over cuts to provider payments, updated our chemical safety laws and addressed the opioid epidemic. A complete list of bipartisan bills that passed out of our committee can be viewed here. This record of success demonstrates that Democrats and Republicans can work collaboratively to tackle the issues that matter to the American people.
This month, I was particularly pleased to see the 21st Century Cures Act signed into law by President Barack Obama. This landmark piece of legislation will provide more than $6 billion to the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration – two crucial Maryland institutions that not only drive our nation’s medical research and innovation, but also make a considerable impact on Maryland’s economy. Funding contained in the 21st Century Cures Act will allow both agencies to modernize clinical trials, support the development of new drugs and devices, speed up drug and device approvals, invest in new science like precision medicine and help young scientists begin their careers in research. It will also kick start Vice President Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot Initiative and increase funding for the prevention and treatment of brain disorders. In all, these improvements will help expand access to life-saving treatments, especially for patients with rare diseases.
Importantly, this bill will also provide $1 billion to combat the opioid epidemic, which has affected so many families and communities in Maryland and across the country. Alongside other efforts that I’ve worked on and supported in Congress – including the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act and the Co-Prescribing to Reduce Overdoses Act, which I authored – I fought hard to ensure that we provide these necessary resources to expand treatment programs that work and effectively tackle this national public health emergency.
I was also pleased that the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act was included in this legislative package. This will expand access to mental health services for children, renew the emphasis on evidence-based strategies for treating serious mental illness, improve coordination between primary care and behavioral health services and reauthorize important programs focused on suicide prevention and other prevention services. Of course, should Republicans follow through on their promises to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and reduce Medicaid funding, these mental health reforms will do next-to-nothing for the vulnerable Americans most dependent on these programs and in need of mental health assistance.
I believe that we in Congress must promote constructive policies that are in the best interests of our citizens. I am working as hard as possible to push forward responsible legislation that accomplishes meaningful change. Every day, I see instances where we are able to make a difference and do positive things for the American people. These successes give me the energy and optimism to continue to work for what I believe is right in the year ahead.
Congressman John P. Sarbanes
Maryland’s Third Congressional District