September 4, 2008

Local pharmacies brace as ownership issue looms

Local pharmacies brace as ownership issue looms The battle lines are drawn. Should a 45-year-old state law requiring pharmacies to be majority-owned by a pharmacist remain intact? Should the law be scrapped? North Dakota remains the only state that requires most pharmacies to be majority owned by a pharmacist. The state legislature’s interim Industry Business and Labor Committee is researching the law, and it appears the issue will be haggled out on the floor of the of the North Dakota Legislature when it convenes in January. Corporate retailers who claim the rule is unfair to consumers and themselves are challenging the pharmacy ownership law, which dates back to 1963. Proponents for the change, a group calling itself Coalition for Affordable Health Care, maintain the law restricts residents from buying lower cost prescriptions at big box retailers like Target, Wal-Mart or Walgreen’s. According to published media, a spokesperson for the group says the law treats North Dakotans unfairly. The Legislature should fund those subsidies out of the general fund, they say, and not burden those who don’t have access to cheaper prescriptions. Supporters for repealing the law add that retaining the law won’t save small town pharmacies, and state subsidies are needed to stay in business.
On the other side of the issue, “mom and pop” drugstores in small towns scattered across the North Dakota prairie feel they would be pushed out of business if the law were repealed. Backers for keeping the ruling argue that to repeal the law could force closure of their hometown drugstores, thus forcing for many rural residents to travel from their home communities to have their prescriptions filled. The North Dakota Pharmacists Association pushed for the ownership law’s passage for the betterment of all N.D. pharmacies, said Mike Chase, Hazen, owner of Chase Pharmacy in Hazen, and pharmacies in Washburn and Garrison. “We felt (the law) was necessary for pharmacists to be in charge of their own pharmacies. And I think that’s necessary.”

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