November 7, 2018 / 11:17 AM / 10 days ago

Privacy, drug price bills have a shot in divided Congress

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a divided U.S. Congress, with Democrats in control of the House of Representatives and the Senate in Republican hands, the number of bills likely to be signed into law falls dramatically.

FILE PHOTO: A person holds pharmaceutical tablets and capsules in this picture illustration taken in Ljubljana September 18, 2013. Picture taken September 18. REUTERS/Srdjan Zivulovic (SLOVENIA - Tags: HEALTH)

That said, the two parties and President Donald Trump generally agree on the need to act in two areas: lower prescription drug prices and rules to protect online privacy.

Nancy Pelosi, the leader of House Democrats who gained the majority in Tuesday’s elections, said on Wednesday that prescription drug prices were a priority, and added: “That is something the president has talked about.”

U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell concurred that prescription drug prices would be on the agenda in 2019, along with infrastructure and judicial nominations.

One driver of high drug prices is the difficulty generic manufacturers have winning approval for their cheaper medicines.

Brand-name companies have long been accused of refusing to give samples of drugs on a government list of restricted medicines, without which generic competitors cannot prove their medicines are as safe and effective as the more expensive versions.

Drug industry experts expect lawmakers to once again take up the Creating and Restoring Equal Access to Equivalent Samples (CREATES) Act of 2018, which allows generic companies to sue brand-name drug companies to get samples. The Senate version has 30 co-sponsors, fairly evenly split between the two parties.

Democratic U.S. Representative David Cicilline will introduce the CREATES Act again in the next Congress, according to one of his congressional aides.

PhRMA, which represents some of the country’s biggest drug companies, said in an emailed statement that it does not support the bill as written.

The prospect of an online privacy bill, which went nowhere for years, increased in June when California Governor Jerry Brown signed tough legislation to give consumers more control over how companies collect and manage their personal information, including allowing consumers to request data be deleted.

Alphabet Inc’s Google (GOOGL.O) and other big companies have indicated they would support a federal bill under discussion that pre-empts California’s law and also responds to the European Union’s pro-privacy General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers both want legislation to address the issue.

New Jersey Representative Frank Pallone, the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee that oversees consumer protection, has indicated that he is interested in pushing for “meaningful” protections.

Trump’s Commerce Department said in July that it was working to develop consumer data privacy policies, responding to a series of massive breaches of sensitive consumer data.

The initiative has broad corporate support.

“Companies are likely looking at this (California’s law and GDPR) and thinking, we can’t fight this everywhere, we need a federal rule,” said Maura Corbett, chief executive of the political communications firm Glen Echo Group, which specializes in tech policy.

Reporting by Diane Bartz; additional reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall

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