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Poll: 59% want pharmacy law repealed

FARGO - A group that is pushing to repeal the law requiring North Dakota pharmacies to be majority-owned by pharmacists has released a poll showing a majority of voters disapprove of the law.

The poll, commissioned by North Dakotans for Affordable Healthcare, found that 59 percent of voters disapprove of the pharmacy ownership law.

The telephone Jan. 20-21 survey of 400 North Dakota voters was conducted by Moore Information and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Surveyors asked respondents: "In 1962, the state of North Dakota passed a law requiring pharmacies to be majority controlled by the managing pharmacists, and not a corporation. As a result, discount prescription drug programs like Wal-Mart's $4 generic program available in 49 other states (are) not available in North Dakota. Based on this, do you approve or disapprove of the law?"

A spokeswoman for the coalition pushing for the repeal, which includes Wal-Mart and Walgreens, on Monday defended the question's reference to the unavailability of corporate drugstore discounts.

"That's been our key statement from the moment we launched North Dakotans for Affordable Healthcare," Tammy Ibach said. "It's all about price."

But Mike Schwab, executive vice president of the North Dakota Pharmacists Association, which opposes the repeal, said the poll's emphasis on corporate drugstore discount programs is misleading.

"Does it paint the whole picture?" he asked. "No," adding that CVS, a chain drugstore that operates in North Dakota's four largest cities under the "grandfather clause" exception to the law, as well as several independent community drugstores, offer similar discounts.

The repeal measure, House Bill 1440, will get its first hearing today in a joint committee meeting in the Heritage Center to accommodate the expected large crowd of spectators.

"Everything's coming to a head now," Schwab said. "During the hearing we will get to hear both sides of the issue."

Other highlights from the poll:

- 84 percent of voters think North Dakota is "generally speaking" going in the right direction.

- Asked what is the most important problem facing North Dakota today, 36 percent said economy and jobs, while 12 percent said health care costs and access.