Pharmacy ownership battle may soon begin in North Dakota

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July 21, 2014

By Ryan Byrne

North Dakota
While “third time’s the charm” is a common phrase of encouragement in the United States, proponents of pharmacy ownership reform in North Dakota may be soon saying “fourth time’s the charm.” After failing to get an initiative on the ballot twice and having their cause trounced in the state legislature, approximately 23,961 signatures were submitted on July 18, 2014 to get a Pharmacy Ownership Initiative on the ballot.[1] Initiative supporters have been trying since 2009 to change ND Century Code 43-15-35, a unique law requiring pharmacies to be majority-owned by a licensed pharmacist or pharmacists.[2] The law effectively bans chain retailers, such as Walmart, Target and Walgreens, from operating pharmacies in North Dakota.[3]

Issues brought up by both sides include rural access to pharmacies, drug prices and consumer choice. Supporters of the initiative say the current law results in higher drug prices and unrightfully limits ownership.[1] Opponents, including the North Dakota Pharmacists Association, argue that repealing the law would actually decrease competition, increase drug prices and limit rural access. Steve Boehning, president of the association, stated, "The exact opposite happens [without the law]. The market becomes dominated by the three large chains [Walmart, Walgreens and CVS]."[3]

In May 2014, Secretary of State Al Jaeger (R) was skeptical initiative proponents had enough time to get the measure on the ballot, saying, "I got the impression they (supporters) want to get it on the November ballot. They don’t have much time."[4] Jaeger approved the initiative for signature collection on June 3, just 45 days before supporters submitted signatures to his office. The required due date for signatures is August 6, 2014.[5] The required valid signature total is 13,452 versus the 23,961 unvalidated signatures turned in. The secretary of state's office will announce whether the initiative made the ballot by August 22, 2014 at the latest.[1]

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