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Pharmacy ownership measure approved for Nov. 4 ballot

BISMARCK – An initiated measure aimed at changing North Dakota’s pharmacy ownership law will appear on the Nov. 4 statewide ballot, Secretary of State Al Jaeger announced Friday.

The measure’s sponsoring committee needed the signatures of 13,452 qualified voters to get the measure on the ballot. They submitted 24,219 signatures, and 22,758 were accepted by Jaeger’s office.

The measure is the sixth to be approved for the Nov. 4 ballot, and two more are under review: a Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks constitutional amendment that would create a conservation fund and trust using oil tax revenue, and a proposed change in state law that would require schools to start classes after Labor Day.

If all eight measures are approved for the ballot, it would tie the number of measures put to voters in November 1980, December 1989 and November 1990, according to Jaeger.

Changing the pharmacy law would allow national retailers such as Wal-Mart and Walgreens to operate pharmacies in the state.

North Dakotans for Lower Pharmacy Prices, a coalition of businesses, healthcare professionals and residents supporting the measure, claims the existing law has resulted in limited pharmacy options and higher prescription drug costs.

They point to a Kaiser Family Foundation study that found per-capita spending on prescription and non-prescription drugs and retail medical supplies in 2009 amounted to $1,185, fifth-highest among the 50 states. Minnesota’s per-capita spending was $906, while South Dakota and Montana ranked in the bottom 10, at $768 and $733, respectively. The national average was $956.

“By allowing more competition into the mix, we have the opportunity to lower prices for everybody,” Amanda Godfread said Friday.

The North Dakota Pharmacists Association supports the existing law and has its own studies showing why voters should keep it, President Steve Boehning said.

“North Dakota has far greater access to pharmacy services, both urban and rural, and we’re already doing it at a much, much lower price than the national average or regional averages,” he said. “But that information will all be coming out over the next couple months.”

Boehning said measure opponents are preparing a full-fledged campaign to educate voters on why the law is good for the state. Proponents of changing the law gathered nearly 14,000 signatures for a similar measure in 2010, but Jaeger rejected the petitions on a technical error because they weren’t circulated with the list of petition sponsors.

“They’re very well organized,” Boehning said. “It’s the same group in the past that is bringing it forward, but I think they’ve got much better funding from the corporations this time around.”

Measure sponsors have received $168,137 in campaign contributions, according to disclosure reports filed with the secretary of state’s office. Godfread said they don’t plan to launch an advertising campaign right away and will instead focus on meeting with community groups and organizations to spread the word about the measure.

“I think really we’re looking for a positive campaign,” she said.

If approved, the measure will amend state law to remove the requirement that pharmacies be operated by a licensed pharmacist, a business controlled by licensed pharmacists, or a hospital pharmacy or postgraduate medical residency training program. North Dakota is the only state that requires pharmacies to be majority-owned by pharmacists who are licensed in the state.

The Greater North Dakota Chamber is among those supporting the measure, saying North Dakotans want and need more access to pharmacy options as health care costs continue to rise.

Boehning said a number of North Dakota associations support the current law, and they’ll be disclosed in the coming months.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.