November 7, 2018 / 11:03 AM / 9 months ago

Privacy, drug price bills have shot in divided Congress

WASHINGTON, Nov 7 (Reuters) - With Democrats winning control of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate in Republican hands, the number of bills likely to become law in a divided Congress falls dramatically.

Democrats rode a wave of dissatisfaction with President Donald Trump to win the House on Tuesday, giving them the clout to block Trump’s agenda and open his administration to intense scrutiny even as attention begins to turn to the next presidential election in two years.

That said, two areas of general agreement between the two parties and the president stand out: the need to lower prescription drug prices and rules to protect online privacy.

Brand-name drug companies have long been accused of refusing to give samples of certain medicines. Without samples, generic companies cannot prove their medicines are as safe and effective as the more expensive drugs.

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 a congressional aide.

PhRMA, which represents some of the country’s biggest drug companies, said in an email statement that it does not support the bill as written, but takes seriously concerns the U.S. Food and Drug Administration system can be used to delay generic drugs coming to the market.

The prospect of an online privacy bill, which went nowhere for years, increased in June when California Governor Jerry Brown signed 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 and other big companies have indicated they would support a federal bill that pre-empts California’s tough legislation.

It would also respond to the European Union’s pro-privacy General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR.

“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.

Debate over the bill could sweep in a vast array of companies, from Facebook Inc and Twitter Inc to small tech companies to automakers that build self-driving cars and consumer companies — any company that collects data on consumers. (Reporting by Diane Bartz, additional reporting by David Shepardson)

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