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Senate Committee Hears Bill That Would Allow Doctors to Sell Prescriptions Directly

HELENA - A new bill in the Senate would allow doctors to sell prescriptions directly to their patients, building off legislation passed earlier this month giving providers the option to circumvent insurance companies by creating “direct care agreements.”

Sen. Cary Smith, R-Billings, sponsored both bills. Senate Bill 101, which would allow direct care agreements, is going to the governor’s desk for his signature after a final 33-16 vote in the Senate.

Smith introduced the prescription drug bill, Senate Bill 374, to the Senate Business Labor and Economic Affairs Committee Wednesday.

“A lot of my time in the Legislature, I’ve worked on ways to lower the high cost of health care,” Smith said. “This is another way to do it.”

Proponents said not only would the bill reduce drug prices by removing pharmacy markups, it would allow doctors to provide better care since they’ll know for certain their patients have their meds. Dr. Cara Harrop is a family physician in Polson and was one of seven supporters at the hearing.

“If patients don’t pick up their medications, I have no idea that that’s happened until their next visit,” Dr. Harrop said. “Or if by chance the pharmacist happens to call me.”

Two conservative think tanks, Americans for Prosperity and the Frontier Institute, also came to support the bill.

Two people from the Montana State Fund and the Montana Self Insurers Association testified against the bill with concerns about how it would affect workers’ compensation. Workers’ compensation is tightly regulated. Injured workers need to go to specific doctors and pharmacies. Opponents said the bill would add a layer of confusion to that process.

The opponents said a coming amendment would remove workers’ compensation from the new rule. If the amendment passes, they said they won’t oppose the bill.

James Bradley is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Montana Newspaper Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.