Guest Post: Efforts To Reform North Dakota’s Pharmacy Law Seem To Have Fizzled

PHARMACY-010SA

Over the last five years or so, the subject of North Dakota’s unique pharmacy ownership law have been debated in the Legislature as well as the public.

During the 2009 and 2011 legislative sessions, bills were introduced in the state House of Representatives, which would have removed the requirement of state law that a pharmacy must be at least majority-owned by a licensed pharmacist in good standing. Neither bill got far, as both were voted down by state representatives, following do not pass recommendations of the House Industry, Business and Labor Committee.

Following the legislative setbacks, two separate initiated measure efforts were undertaken to change the law. Both met with embarrassing defeats before they even made the ballot. The 2009-10 initiative made it as far as the secretary of state’s office when the petitions were filed. Unfortunately, the organization which had spearheaded that effort, North Dakotans for Affordable Healthcare, had neglected to attach a list of the names and addresses of the sponsoring committee members onto each petition booklet. That oversight was a direct violation of state law, thus causing Secretary of State Al Jaeger to reject the petitions. This kept the measure off the 2010 general election ballot. The group appealed to the North Dakota Supreme Court, which unanimously upheld the secretary of state’s ruling, and the measure was out.

A second effort by the group really never got off the ground. Former Republican U.S. Senate candidate Duane Sand of Bismarck spearheaded another initiated measure effort on the pharmacy ownership law, following the 2011 legislative session. When Sand left the pharmacy ownership initiative effort to concentrate on a primary election bid to wrestle the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate away from now-former Congressman Rick Berg, his departure pretty much left the pharmacy ownership law petition drive flapping in the wind.

With no leadership or direction to speak of following Sand’s departure, what was left of the North Dakotans for Affordable Healthcare group decided to let the petition filing deadline pass; and the measure did not appear on the 2012 general election ballot. The group decided to suspend its efforts, citing a lack of financial support and petition signatures.

There were no bills on the subject of the pharmacy ownership law filed in either the state House of Representatives or the state Senate for consideration in the current legislative session. It would seem that most lawmakers have grown weary about the subject. The bill that was introduced during the 2011 legislative session by Rep. Thomas Beadle, R-Fargo, only got 35 yes votes on the House floor when it came up for debate and a vote.

Will there be yet another initiated measure effort launched on the subject of the pharmacy ownership law? It’s anyone’s guess at this point. No individual or individuals or groups of individuals have come forward as of yet with plans to mount another initiative effort. In the interests of full disclosure, I was a member of the sponsoring committee of both initiated measure efforts in 2009-10 and 2011-12. I was an active volunteer with North Dakotans for Affordable Healthcare. The group to the best of my knowledge more or less went out of existence in 2012 following the failed petition drive effort.

From a personal standpoint, I certainly hope some individual or group of individuals will come forward and mount yet another initiated measure petition drive to once and for all get rid of this anti-competitive law. In the other 49 states of the country, this is not an issue; and the big box retailers and the small independently-owned drug stores compete with each other and get along just fine.

Yet, North Dakota refuses to get with it when it comes to this subject. Competition is healthy. Presently, North Dakotans cannot take advantage of the much-advertised discount prescription price offers of a number of national retailers.

Clarence F. “Rick” Olson of Fargo is is a regular contributor of commentary and opinion articles to publications across the state, most namely, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He is a 1989 graduate of North Dakota State University, Fargo, where he majored in mass communications. Following a brief journalism career with stops at a weekly newspaper in Dodge Center, Minn. and at WDAY Radio in Fargo, Olson relocated back to Fargo which has been his home since 1979.

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