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Published February 22, 2011, 02:20 PM

ND Pharmacy Ownership Law Survives Challenge

A long-running campaign to dump a North Dakota law that requires pharmacists to have ownership control of most pharmacies came up short again Tuesday.

By: Trevor Born, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A long-running campaign to dump a North Dakota law that requires pharmacists to have ownership control of most pharmacies came up short again Tuesday.

The North Dakota House voted 68-26 to keep the law, which is the only one of its kind in the nation. It prevents major retailers, such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Walgreen Co., from operating pharmacies in their own stores.

"If we repeal our pharmacy ownership law, we will change the landscape of our lifestyle in North Dakota forever," said Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo. "We will never be able to go back to what we have today . . . which is the best pharmacy system in the country."

The ownership restrictions have survived a number of repeal attempts and a U.S. Supreme Court legal challenge since they were adopted in 1963 as a strategy for blocking physician ownership of drugstores.

After the House defeated a similar measure in 2009, repeal supporters circulated a petition to put the issue to a statewide vote. However, the initiative was disqualified from the ballot after Secretary of State Al Jaeger discovered flaws in the petition.

Rep. Thomas Beadle, R-Fargo, who sponsored this year's repeal measure, said the ownership law drives up costs for prescription drug buyers and helps to shield local pharmacists from competition.

"Competition is good, and competition is beneficial to our consumers if we allow it to work," Beadle said. "The current (law) in North Dakota is a protectionist clause that is a penalty to the consumers."

He said constituents in his Fargo district complained of paying more for drugs at local pharmacies than they did in other states, or when they filled their prescriptions through the mail.

"We do not want to limit the competition in our state to the detriment of our consumers," Beadle said. "All this does is open the market to competition and make sure we have fair prices and fair options for our consumers."

North Dakota pharmacists argue that their prices are competitive, and that the law gives them greater control over their own businesses. Supporters of the ownership law say it helps keep rural pharmacies in business.

Rep. Lee Kaldor, D-Mayville, said pharmacies in his rural eastern North Dakota district face competition from stores in Grand Forks to the north and Fargo to the south. He said his local pharmacy is an important business, and that it's crucial that rural access be preserved.

"I go there because the people who are serving me behind that counter are concerned about my health care," Kaldor said. "They know me and I know them."

The bill is HB1434.

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