Lower Prescription Costs Are A Red Herring In Measure 7 Debate

Ironically both sides in the debate over Measure 7 (that’s the one which would repeal North Dakota’s archaic pharmacy protection law) are claiming that voting their way would be a vote for lower prescription prices.

This week a reader sent me the photo above of a billboard put up near Jamestown. It was purchased by a group representing the pharmacists already working in the state. They don’t want competition from pharmacies run by the likes of Walmart and Target (though, given a bizarre loophole, existing law has allowed a few chains like CVS to operate in the state by buying grandfathered pharmacy licenses). They want you to believe that voting against Measure 7 will keep pharmacy prices low.

A reader also sent me this picture from a banner hung inside a Fargo-area Walmart store. The retail giant is one of the backers of the measure, and they also are claiming lower prescription prices.

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So who is right? Will prescription prices be lower if Measure 7 fails or if it passes?

Who knows.

The problem with these claims is that prescription drug prices in North Dakota are the result of a lot of variables, most of them beyond the state’s control. The future of drug prices in this state will likely be little impacted by this change in law. No doubt it is a nice talking point for opponents and proponents of the measure alike, but it’s also specious one.

What changes in prices for prescriptions in this state which come after this measure passes (or fails) will have little to do with the vote.

Rather, support for this measure should hinge on how voters prefer their markets to work. Do they like them protected by law where only a select and lucky few are allowed to compete? Or is entry to the market open for all?

I know I prefer the latter, and would note that when it comes to retail it is more than just price that matters. Convenience. Customer service. Selection. These things matter too, and I think those things are best served by an open market which includes everyone from small, independent pharmacists to national chains.

North Dakotans deserve a choice when it comes to pharmacies. Their choices today, unlike the 49 other states, are limited. That should end.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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