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New Law Allows Montana Doctors to Dispense Medications Directly to Patients

Reform Bill Followed Lawsuit by Institute for Justice to Overturn Montana’s Ban on Doctor Dispensing

ARLINGTON, Va.—Yesterday, Gov. Greg Gianforte signed SB 374 into law, allowing doctors in Montana to dispense prescribed medications directly to their patients, a practice known as “doctor dispensing.” The bill was proposed following a lawsuit filed in June 2020 by the Institute for Justice (IJ) on behalf of Dr. Carol Bridges, Dr. Cara Harrop and Dr. Todd Bergland challenging the state’s ban on doctor dispensing.

The bill gained near-unanimous support after the Montana Pharmacy Association—which had opposed several previous reform efforts—testified in support of the bill. The Association acknowledged that “the root of our previous opposition to similar bills was protectionism,” and declared that “taking care of patients . . . means being amenable to change and looking ahead and not being so protective of our profession.” The Association also noted that its change of heart was prompted, in part, by IJ’s lawsuit.

“Montana did the right thing by allowing patients to decide for themselves where to purchase their prescribed medications,” said IJ Attorney Josh Windham. “The fact that the Montana Pharmacy Association said the quiet part out loud—that these bans have always been motivated by economic protectionism—should inspire the few remaining states with similar bans to follow suit.”

“This legislation is another step toward achieving quality outcomes in medicine,” said Dr. Cara Harrop. “Patients have the option of getting medication in an affordable and transparent model, doctors can be better informed about their patients’ compliance with their prescribed treatment plans, and pharmacists, where appropriate, can continue serving as consultants on the healthcare team.”

“I’m grateful that our lawsuit played a part in prompting this legislation,” said Dr. Todd Bergland. “Ultimately, common sense and justice have prevailed—and Montana patients will be the beneficiaries.”

Under the original law, Montana doctors were banned from regularly dispensing medications to their patients unless they worked over 10 miles from the nearest pharmacy. Doctors who violated the ban could be fined and even lose their medical licenses.

Montana joins 44 other states and the District of Columbia in allowing doctor dispensing, a service most doctors report offering on a daily basis and that national research shows is just as safe as pharmacy dispensing. Now that Montana’s bill has been signed, IJ and the doctors plan to withdraw their lawsuit.

Of the five states that still ban doctor dispensing, Massachusetts and Texas also have pending legislation that could legalize the practice. IJ is currently suing Texas to overturn its ban.

“Banning doctors from supplying patients with the medications they have prescribed is a senseless barrier to care that serves only to protect pharmacies from economic competition,” said IJ Attorney Keith Neely. “Now that Montana has repealed its ban, we call on the small handful of states with these anti-competitive laws to do the same.”

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