Videos & Speeches

Mr. President, since my arrival in the United States Senate a few years ago I have been a proponent and an advocate and attempted to champion an issue that many in the Senate care about. That is the desire to increase America’s investment in medical research – to increase the likelihood of outcomes that are desirable in improving every American’s well-being, to end the pain and heartache that comes with diagnoses that often end in difficult lives and ultimately, death.

So we have worked hard as a senate – and I serve on the Appropriations committee with you Mr. President – I serve on the Appropriations subcommittee that funds the National Institute of Health and from my vantage point it’s clear to me that we have made a significant investment in increasing the amount of dollars that taxpayers pay to try to find those cures for cancer, to eliminate the onset of Alzheimer’s to help with diabetes, mental health issues. And this week a lot of leadership is taking place over a number of months in which we now will culminate next week with a vote on the 21st Century Cures act. It is an important component of this medical innovation that I find so necessary for the benefit of Kansans and for the benefit of Americans and really, for people who live around the globe.

This Cures Act invests in the future of our country by providing a significant increase in federal support for life-saving biomedical research that will simply impact the life of every American, certainly every American family.

These important investments range from increasing the funding at the National Institutes of Health, advancing the Precision Medicine Initiative, funding important cancer research through the cancer “moonshot,” and supporting the BRAIN initiative to improve our understanding of diseases like Alzheimer’s.

There are also provisions that will accelerate FDA approval of the drug development process as well as fight opioid abuse and suicides. The subcommittee that you and I serve on in the Appropriations committee – the subcommittee that deals with agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration – we want to give the FDA the tools necessary to accelerate the process by which life-saving drugs and devices are available for Americans and for citizens around the globe.

Under this legislation, the Cures Act, the NIH will receive a significant dollar investment increase over the next 10 years. We know that will drive research forward to develop greater understanding of rare diseases. We often think about NIH as those major afflictions: cancer, and Alzheimer’s, and diabetes, but many Americans unfortunately suffer from rare diseases and we want to help find the treatments certainly that are patient-centric to treat rare diseases as well. 

This funding will send a message that we acknowledges the benefits of NIH research in a strong bipartisan way. This funding will also work in tandem with those increases that we have provided at the NIH through the normal annual appropriations process.

We’ve always given NIH the ability to prioritize their research that can result in the biggest bang for the buck – the most life-saving opportunities – but obviously the more resources NIH has, the more opportunities they have to find those cures and delays and treatments.

This effort also supports the best and brightest among us, those researchers and scientists. I want young Kansans to have a future. If they’re interested in science, mathematics, and engineering and research I want them to have an opportunity to pursue those careers, hopefully in our state, but certainly in this country. We want the United States of America to continue to be at the forefront of medical research and in the realm of science and engineering as well.

This is an economic engine for our nation. It can be and is an economic engine for my state. The Cures Act accelerates those opportunities for young people and others across the country who want to devote their lives toward the noble cause of making life longer with greater longevity, but also with less challenges and afflictions that come to many people who encounter disease.

The burden of diseases like Alzheimer’s, cancer, stroke and mental illness can be lessened through research. A long time ago, well before the Affordable Care Act and Obamacare, I sat down and put my thoughts on paper of what we should do to try to reduce the cost of healthcare in this country - what do we do to reduce the price that people have to pay to be insured. That list is long. In my view the way to do this is incremental, but one of those increments is to invest in medical research.

The amount of money that we would save if we would find the cure for cancer, if we would find the delay for the onset of Alzheimer’s, is certainly in the billions of dollars. Investment in medical research helps us save healthcare dollars therefore helping us make healthcare insurance more affordable for more Americans.

So it’s certainly an investment in economics, it’s an investment in an ability to save money, as well as what we know about saving lives and making treatments available to people who otherwise would have less life enjoyment as a result of that disease.

New scientific findings are what yield breakthroughs that enable us to confront the staggering challenges of disease and illness, and we can do that through the Cures Act and the efforts that we have made over the last several years to make certain that NIH has additional resources.

When it comes to cancer, half of all men and a third of all women in the United States will develop cancer in their lifetime. The “Cancer Moonshot,” which this bill includes, provides $1.8 billion dollars of funding. It seeks to combat those statistics to reduce the chances that somebody encounters cancer in their lives, and to reduce the costs associated with it. This research will focus on accelerating cancer research and make more therapies more available to more people, to a wider range of patients, and improving our ability to detect cancer at earlier stages of its development and hopefully prevent that disease altogether. So cancer is front and center with the moonshot in the Cures Act.

The Food and Drug Administration, an agency that I’ve learned more about in the last couple years and have taken a greater interest in, we need to have reforms that are included in the Cures Act that target speeding up the FDA’s approval of new medicines and medical equipment.

Pharmaceuticals have become a significant portion of how we treat disease. Used to be in my early days of life, certainly my parents’ lives, you went to the doctor and were examined, and then maybe admitted to the hospital. So often today you are examined and you are given a prescription and it is a way that we now treat patients. We have a new array, a wider variety, of opportunities that pharmaceuticals provide and we need to make certain the FDA has the resources, has the right mentality, the mindset, is not a bureaucratic organization, that can advance the causes of new prescriptions, new drugs, available to treat Americans with a wide array of options.

This legislation brings a patient-focused view to the drug development that will be so relevant in the process of bringing the things that we need to cure and treat Americans.

Opioids have been a conversation of this Senate for a number of months, for the last several years in fact, and unfortunately millions across the country struggle with an addiction to opioids. It’s a heartbreaking reality.

You and I, Mr. President, come from rural states. We wish we could say that our states are immune and that it’s a problem for folks in the cities and the suburbs or someplace else, but unfortunately opioids and other drug addictions are a significant component of challenges we face at home. We include in the Cures bill additional dollars to address the addiction; including: prevention, treatment, prescription drug monitoring programs and efforts to reform our current system.  It’s important that this legislation pass as a follow-up to the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which I voted for earlier this year, to try to stop the spread of opioid abuse in communities across the country.

I have started paying more attention to mental health issues at home as well, visiting our community mental health centers, visiting our state mental health hospitals. We need to make certain that in our efforts to focus on health care, we have an appropriate prioritization of mental health as well.

The 21st Century Cures Act takes steps forward in that regard in providing solutions for the more than 11.5 million American adults who live with mental illness that is considered disabling. Important sections of the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, which represent some of the most significant reforms to the mental health system in more than a decade, are included in the Cures Act.

These efforts are aided by establishing a new assistant secretary for mental health and substance abuse in the Department of Health and Human Services. We are hopeful that this person will help us coordinate direct funding and remove the regulatory barriers that hold back our abilities to find treatment and cure and care for people who suffer mental illness.

Suicides are a significant problem. You and I, Mr. President, serve on the Veterans Committee together, where suicides by veterans is an ever-present problem. Twenty-two veterans a day commit suicide and our efforts at focusing research and treatment in regard to mental health can help save lives of those who have sacrificed so much for us, to the comfort of their families and avoid disasters and tragedies that occur way too often.

There’s a couple of provisions that were included in this legislation as it works its way through the Senate. I’m supportive of many of those related to rural healthcare. For my time in Congress I have been an active member of the Rural Healthcare Caucus. I represent a state that has 127 hospitals in communities across our state. Those hospitals provide healthcare and jobs for people in rural America. Rural Kansans have paid into FICA and social security taxes. We deserve to have the attention that we need for treating individuals who choose to live in rural America. Keeping those hospital doors open, keeping physicians in our communities, keeping pharmacies open on Main Street – those are things that matter greatly to me.

Unfortunately the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a component of the department of Health and Human Services, often creates rules and regulations that make no sense in the places that you and I come from. 

I’m supportive of a couple of things in particular that are included in this. We had a regulation that came from CMS, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, generally called “physician supervision.” Its enforcement is delayed one year in the Cures Act. I’m a sponsor to rid us of this regulation permanently, but it’s a benefit to have it out of the system for another year as we work to find that permanent solution.

The idea that there must be a physician present, in circumstances – it’s difficult for us to have a physician on-site in the room with a patient in every circumstance and our mid-levels and others are important to us in rural communities in particular. That delay is something we’ve worked hard for and I’m pleased to see that we were successful in getting it included in this legislation. Many of those hospitals that I mentioned in Kansas, 127 hospitals in our state – 80 plus, 90 or so, are what’s called critical access hospitals, a special designation that allows them a so-called cost-based reimbursement. When I was in the House of Representatives I authored legislation that created an opportunity to expand the critical access hospital designation to hospitals that are slightly larger, that wouldn’t otherwise meet the criteria to be a critical access hospital, and that is 25 beds or less. There’s a demonstration project, a pilot program, that’s been operating in the country for the last five years trying to determine what cost-based reimbursement would mean for hospitals that are slightly larger than that 25 beds. That demonstration project is expiring and fortunately, language in the Cures Act extends that community health demonstration project.

That’s something again we’ve worked hard to make certain happens and I’m pleased that the lead sponsors of this legislation were amenable to our request to include these provisions.

I would conclude by saying the United States has a responsibility to continue our leadership in providing the medical breakthroughs that will help change the world, certainly change people’s lives, to develop those cures and treat diseases. We must commit ourselves to significant support for this research that is supported in legislation just like the 21st Century Cures Act.

It has the capacity, the legislation, to benefit millions of Americans suffering from chronic diseases. It can help our grandparents, our children, our lifelong best friends; and we can avoid the tragedy that come with diagnosis that often end in death.

People’s lives depend on the decisions that we make and this is a decision that we can make that will benefit many, many Americans and their families.

Our researchers must be able to rely on consistent, sustainable funding and support from Congress, otherwise we will lose the best and brightest, otherwise we will lose young men and women who think maybe they want to be a researcher and find a cure for disease. But because of the uncertainty of whether or not their research might get funded, whether the funding is going to be there maybe next year, or they get funding for their research but are uncertain as to whether it will continue. We don’t want to lose those bright minds and noble callings of young people across our country, to enter into the profession of medical research, to help find ways to meet the needs of Americans in their healthcare.

NIH-supported research has raised life expectancy, improved the quality of life and lowered overall health care costs. This legislation strengthens that circumstance and allows us to better remain globally competitive in the arena of medical research.

The 21st Century Cures Act is a powerful statement by Congress, but more important than being a statement, it’s something that will actually make a difference in people that we care about’s future. I commend the efforts of many senators and members of the house, to make certain that this legislation arrives here in the senate before there is a recess for the holidays. It will be a strong statement but more importantly we expect significant results and the improvement of people’s lives across the nation and around the globe.