Pet Medications: Debating the Fairness of the New Fairness to Pet Owners Act

Patty Khuly holding two dogs

Kicking off a new column with a political post is tad risky, but what can I say, I’m crazy like that. This entry has to do with where you buy your pet’s drugs, why that matters, and what the federal government is trying to do to protect consumers from getting fleeced.

The Fairness to Pet Owners Act is a proposed new federal law that would require vets to write scripts for drugs to be filled at off-site pharmacies.

Here’s some background: Historically, pet owners have purchased animal medication at the vet hospital. Got an itch, an infection or a parasite to prevent? No need to waste your time running off to a pharmacy — we’ve got just the drug for you.

In the past, pharmacies never bothered to stock veterinary products, but fast forward to 2011 and every pharmacy, mom-and-pop pet shop, and big-box retailer wants in on the action. Pets translate into big bucks nowadays — and big retailers, like Walmart, want a piece of that.

Truth is, competition is a good thing, but these changes mean that your vet is being edged out. Sure it means you can pay less, but here's the bad news: It really impacts how we pay for our lights, our phones and our workers comp. Since we compete with other vet clinics on neutering, exam fees and X-rays, we struggle to keep those prices low. The mark-up on all that other stuff is what keeps us in the black.

So the bulk of the pet-based veterinary community now finds itself in turmoil. How do we suddenly tell our clients that a spay procedure is no longer $150, but $450? And that exam fee? It's now $60, instead of $45. Some veterinarians have decided that they’ll resist this change — even if it means they have to do so “kicking and screaming,” as a few vets I know have characterized it. Many vets have taken this attitude even further: They’ll outright refuse to write you a prescription, so you can’t get a better deal elsewhere.

This is a practice that the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has deemed unethical and one that I personally abhor. This is where the Fairness to Pet Owners Act comes in. If it passes, the law would alter business as usual for these naysaying vets in a few key ways.

According to the AVMA, “H.R. 1406 would impose new stipulations on veterinary prescriptions. The bill requires a veterinarian to 1) write a prescription whether or not he/she will dispense the product; 2) provide a written disclosure notifying clients that they may fill prescriptions at the veterinary clinic or at an off-site pharmacy; and 3) verify a prescription electronically or by other means consistent with applicable State law."

Additionally, a veterinarian may not: Require the purchase of an animal drug for which the veterinarian has written a prescription; charge a client a fee for writing a prescription as part of (or in addition to) the fee for examination and evaluation of a pet; or require a client to sign, or supply a client with, a waiver or liability disclaimer should the prescription be inaccurately filled by an off-site pharmacy.

Here’s what I have to say on the matter: Although I absolutely agree with the intent of the legislation, I do see a problem from my perspective. The bill doesn’t merely call on vets to offer a choice, it requires us to provide a paper trail for our recommendation. So what am I supposed to do? Write a physical script and then write “void” on it when my client chooses to get it filled with me? And when do I offer said “written disclosure”? On the invoice? After they've paid? I mean, seriously, what a pain!

Plus, when you factor in that I lose income on my pharmacy — I have to pay to keep meds stocked at all times for insta-availability —  it makes the whole shebang unpalatable for even those of us who’d like to rid ourselves of the stuff sales altogether.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a veterinarian more receptive than I am to any kind of pro-pet owner change, but I still find myself marveling at our lawmakers. The Washington bureaucrats should have come to me first, so I could have explained how the whole prescription morass can be intelligently navigated — with a minimum of grief for the vet crowd, of course.

So what do you think? Is this legislation is unfair to veterinarians? Is critical for the pet owner? Give us your opinion in the comments below.


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