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Doctors Sue Over Texas' Ban On Selling Prescription Drugs From Their Offices

Gabriel C. Pérez

Two Texas doctors are suing the state over a law prohibiting them from selling prescription drugs to their patients.

The plaintiffs – a family physician in Austin and an ophthalmologist in San Antonio – argue that Texas’ ban is irrational and unconstitutional. Their lawsuit, announced Thursday, was filed in the Travis County Civil District Court against the Texas State Board of Pharmacy and the Texas Medical Board.

Since the 1980s, Texas has banned doctors from dispensing medicine directly to their patients unless they practice more than 15 miles away from a pharmacy. That means most doctors in the state can give patients only a 72-hour supply of prescription drugs, unless they have a pharmacist’s license.
Currently, 45 other states and Washington, D.C., allow doctors to dispense medication to their patients.

“The vast majority of states embrace dispensing as a safe and effective way to increase patients’ access to prescription medication,” said Josh Windham, an attorney with the Virginia-based Institute for Justice, who is representing the Texas doctors.

There’s also broad support in the medical community for allowing Texas doctors to dispense medicine out of their offices, including support from the Texas Medical Association and the Texas Academy of Family Physicians.

Windham said Texas’ ban doesn’t just affect those doctors; it makes things harder for patients.

“What a patient really wants to do when they go to the doctor for the flu or strep throat, or even worse – a heart attack – is to be able to get the medication they need right at the point of care,” he said.

Windham said his clients want to dispense medication at cost, which is something many doctors in rural areas are allowed to do because they're more than 15 miles away from a pharmacy.

“[Rural doctors] are allowed to dispense non-controlled prescription medication – so, routine medication like antibiotics that require a prescription, but not marijuana or opiates or anything like that,” he said.

Dr. Michael Garrett, one of the plaintiffs, said he thinks he could save his patients money if he were able to sell medications at cost.

“I go to conferences and I have colleagues that have these practices and they say, ‘Gosh, isn’t this great? I can save my patients 60% on their medicine, 40% on their medicine, 80% on their medicines,'” he said. “And we are not allowed to do that in Texas, because this law prohibits it."

Garrett, who has a family practice in Westlake, said doctors pay much less for medications and medical supplies than his patients are often charged at a pharmacy. He said giving patients this option could also ensure they actually take their medications, too. Garrett said his patients often don’t fill a prescription he writes because they can’t afford it.

“That kind of thing is not uncommon,” he said. “I see opportunities every single day for really substantial cost savings to my patients – and that’s aside from the convenience and hassle issue.”

The Texas Medical Association, which is not a party to the lawsuit, said it supports allowing doctors to dispense medications out of their offices at cost.

"Doing so can reduce patients’ costs and improve their care, by increasing the likelihood they will take their necessary medicine," it said in a statement.  

This post has been updated. 

Ashley Lopez covers politics and health care. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio.
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