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Jaeger says yes to pharmacy measure for circulation

BISMARCK — Sponsors of a proposed ballot measure that would change North Dakota’s pharmacy ownership law to allow national retailers such as Wal-Mart and Walgreens to operate pharmacies in the state can begin circulating their petition for signatures, Secretary of State Al Jaeger said Tuesday.

Jaeger has approved the petition format, and now the committee must gather at least 13,452 qualified signatures by Aug. 6 to place the measure on the Nov. 4 ballot.

The approved petition title states that the measure would amend state law “to remove the requirement that an applicant for a permit to operate a pharmacy must be 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.

Opponents of the law argue that lifting the ownership restriction would improve access, create more competition in the marketplace and reduce prescription drug prices. The North Dakota Pharmacists Association supports the existing law and contends it results in better access to pharmaceutical care, especially in rural areas, and hasn’t contributed to higher prescription drug prices.

North Dakotans for Lower Pharmacy Prices, the coalition of residents, health care professionals and businesses pushing the measure, released a statement Tuesday saying it will continue to work to build even more support across the state through its signature-gathering effort.

“As a physician, I’ve heard firsthand from my patients one of their main concerns is the rising cost of health care,” Dr. Eric Thompson of Bismarck, the coalition’s chairman, said in the statement. “North Dakotans are paying higher prices for their medication due to the current restrictive pharmacy law. This is an issue that needs to be addressed, and our proposal offers a solution that is in line with what a majority of North Dakotans want: more pharmacy options to better meet their needs.”

The group received a boost Tuesday when the Greater North Dakota Chamber announced its support for the group’s effort to change the law.

“As health care costs continue to rise across the nation, we believe residents of North Dakota want and need more access to pharmacy options,” chamber President and CEO Andy Peterson said in a news release. “When it comes to health care, North Dakotans should have the option of deciding what’s best for their families and themselves.”

Proponents gathered nearly 14,000 signatures for a similar measure in 2010, but Jaeger rejected the petitions because they weren’t circulated with the list of petition sponsors. At least five attempts to persuade the state Legislature to repeal the law also have failed, most recently in 2011.

A sponsoring committee member said last week that if they don’t meet the deadline for getting the measure on the November ballot, it could be brought forward at a subsequent election.

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