WASHINGTON - Two privacy bills - one barring the sharing of customer medical information and the other requiring more government study of general privacy protection - are moving in opposite directions on Capitol Hill.

The House Banking Committee late last week adopted the Medical Financial Privacy Protection Act, which would require financial institutions to get explicit customer permission to share health information among affiliates or with third-parties. It would also bar financial institutions from obtaining or using individually identifiable health information as the basis for making decisions about extending credit, unless they have the customer's consent.

But the bill, opposed by industry and Senate Banking Committee Chairman Phil Gramm, is expected to stall in other House committees.

Lobbyists see a slightly brighter future for a less-controversial measure to create a federal commission to study privacy issues, which the House Government Reform Committee last week cleared for a vote by the full chamber. The 17-member bipartisan commission would have a year and a half to investigate how various industries handle personal financial, medical, and government records. The commission would then recommend whether additional legislation is needed.

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