Physician Dispensing Makes Sense for Montana

Physician Dispensing Makes Sense for Montana

Right on Healthcare’s research shows that physician dispensing is a safe and effective practice that makes sense for Montana.

With the coronavirus pandemic causing thousands of Americans to forgo doctors visits and delay necessary care, Right on Healthcare’s newest Policy Brief “Physician Dispense Makes Sense” outlines why it makes sense to repeal Montana’s law prohibiting doctors from dispensing medicine.

The majority of Montanans get their prescriptions from their physician then travel to a pharmacy to fill their prescriptions. Yet 45 other states allow physicians to both prescribe and dispense medications, known as “physician dispense”. Montana is one of only five states which effectively prohibit doctors from dispensing medications in most instances.

Source: “Physician Dispensing State by State Comparison,” DPC Frontier

There are some very limited exceptions to the rule. For example, Montana allows doctors who practice over 10 miles from any pharmacy to dispense medication. However, under the rule only 28 doctors would qualify to dispense medicine in Montana, a state with over 1 million residents.

Montana’s law may also be unconstitutional. Three Montana family medicine doctors teamed up with the Institute for Justice earlier this year to challenge the law, asking for the right to dispense medications to their patients at-cost.

The case focuses on the unfair, anti-competitive effects of the law restricting dispensing within 10 miles of a pharmacy. According to the plaintiffs, “The Montana Constitution forbids government from imposing unreasonable and protectionist restrictions on the right to pursue a chosen business and these protections are no less applicable to licensed doctors than anyone else.”

Right on Healthcare’s policy brief discusses research which shows that physician dispensing is equally as safe as when prescriptions are filled at the pharmacy. Studies show that physician dispensing can also be more convenient for patients, making it easier for patients to keep up with prescriptions, which can lead to better health outcomes and savings on healthcare costs long-term.

There is also a potential for savings when physicians bypass the middlemen involved in complicated insurance billing to dispense medications for cash. By the time a drug is sold at a retail pharmacy the cost of a medication can have increased by up to 200 percent. Sometimes a patient’s insurance arrangement covers the cost of the prescription, but other times purchasing a drug for cash can be much cheaper than a patient’s insurance copay.

Savings can grow even larger when doctors dispense at-cost, as the three Montana doctors in the Institute for Justice lawsuit would like to do, providing medication for near-wholesale prices and skipping the markup a patient might find through a pharmacy.


Physician dispense does not require patients to purchase their drugs at their physician’s office but merely makes the option available to them, allowing them to shop for the best price and make tradeoffs between price and convenience.

Especially during a pandemic, it’s important that Montana leaders reduce barriers for doctors to treat patients. Right on Healthcare’s research shows that physician dispensing is a safe and effective practice that makes sense for Montana.

Click here to read more in our policy brief.

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