Consumers fighting North Dakota pharmacy ownership law

August 27, 2008

The law means North Dakota consumers must travel elsewhere to buy the more than 300 drugs retailers like Wal-Mart and Target offer for $4.

Wal-Mart, Target, Walgreen's and other large retailers guarantee consumers across the nation the availability of low-cost prescription drugs. That is except in North Dakota, where a 45 year-old state law says retail pharmacies must be at least 51-percent owned by pharmacists.

The law, the only one of its kind in the nation, means North Dakota consumers must travel elsewhere to buy the more than 300 drugs retailers like Wal-Mart and Target offer for $4. Mike Schwab of the North Dakota Pharmacists Association said the big-box pharmacies would spell doom for small pharmacies throughout the state, ultimately forcing consumers to travel further to fill prescriptions. Others supporting the law cite the state's high rate of pharmacies and pharmacists per 100,000 people.

Not everyone is convinced by that argument. "North Dakotans are being denied the option to buy cheaper drugs," Chip Thomas, president of the North Dakota Healthcare Association, said. "It's a question of are you in charge of your economic decisions in buying or is somebody else saying I'm going to prevent you from exercising that prerogative and that?s what we have."

The state legislature is debating whether the law should be changed or repealed.

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