I used to be a lobbyist (not a very good one, if truth be told) for animal welfare issues on Capitol Hill. I also grew up in the Washington, D.C. area, which might explain why I have a greater than normal (unhealthy?) interest in politics and legislative issues. So when I saw that a bill had been introduced in the House of Representatives that directly affects veterinarians and pet owners, I took notice.

The title of the bill is H.R.1406, or the Fairness to Pet Owners Act of 2011. What it does, in brief, is require that veterinarians: 

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.

3) Verify a prescription electronically, or by other means consistent with applicable state law.

 

Additionally, a veterinarian may not: 

1) Require the purchase of an animal drug for which the veterinarian has written a prescription.

2) 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.

3) 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. 

(Paraphrased from an AVMA Issue Brief.)

Not too surprisingly, veterinarians are pretty much against the bill, and companies that own and run pharmacies are all for it.

Here’s my take. A federal law is complete overkill when it comes to this situation. I have always honored a client’s request for a written or electronic prescription, and I think most veterinarians do the same (any conflicting experiences out there?). Many states (about half, the last time I checked) already legally require that veterinarians provide prescriptions when asked.

It feels to me that the lawmakers who support this bill are simply trying to curry favor with the companies that run some of the larger chains of pharmacies in our country. These companies are free to advertise the fact that pet owners can ask for prescriptions rather than having them filled at the veterinary clinic; I simply feel that I shouldn’t be forced to do that advertising for them.

I also get a chuckle out of the requirement that I would have to write a prescription even if the owner is going to turn around and ask me to dispense the medication. I picture vets across the country handing little slips of paper across the counter only to have them handed right back. I’m sure the bill is written this way so that pet owners are more likely to use the pharmacy down the street, but when the written prescription isn’t wanted in the first place, this is a total waste of everyone’s time!

I understand the ban on charging for prescriptions. I’ve worked in clinics where that idea has been tossed around but never implemented for fear of pissing off clients. Have no doubt, however, that if this bill passes, veterinarians will have to raise prices elsewhere to compensate for the decrease in their productivity, and for the potential loss of pharmacy sales.

I’m sure I’ll get some grief for toeing the veterinary line on this one. What do you think?

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: ZanyZeus / via Shutterstock