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New Montana Law Prescribes More Competition in Health Care

Another protectionist law bites the dust.

Forty-four states and D.C. allow doctors to dispense the medications they prescribe. Until recently, Montana was an outlier. The state effectively banned doctors from filling prescriptions for patients unless they practiced more than 10 miles from the nearest pharmacy.

This ban was never about protecting patients. Doctor dispensing is safe and convenient, and it expands patient choice. Instead, it was about protecting pharmacies from competition.

So last year, IJ teamed up with three family doctors and filed a lawsuit to strike down Montana’s protectionist ban. The case quickly caught the eye of two key groups: lawmakers and pharmacists.

Lawmakers, eager to cut unnecessary red tape during the pandemic, saw an opportunity to help doctors serve patients. They proposed a bill to eliminate Montana’s ban.

Pharmacists felt compelled to act. The Montana Pharmacy Association had spent decades lobbying to keep the ban in place. But IJ’s case prompted a change of heart: Rather than oppose the bill, the Association publicly endorsed it, admitting that “at the root of our previous opposition to similar bills was protectionism” and that it was time to put patients first.

After that shocking admission, the writing was on the wall for Montana’s ban. The bill flew through the Legislature, receiving near-unanimous support on the way to making Montana the 45th state to legalize doctor dispensing.

IJ’s experience in Montana offers a valuable lesson: Sometimes, the best remedy for protectionism is simply to expose it to sunlight.

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