The push to mandate that veterinarians provide portable prescriptions (prescriptions that can be filled by someone other than their veterinarian) appears to be moving forward.
The so-called Fairness to Pet Owners Act has been reintroduced in Congress. The bill basically requires that veterinarians:
- Provide pet owners with copies of prescriptions whether or not they are requested
- Provide copies of prescriptions or verify prescriptions if a pharmacy or person designated to act on behalf of the pet owner so requests
and that veterinarians do not:
- Require that owners purchase animal drugs from the prescriber or any other particular person/retailer
- Charge clients a fee for writing a prescription
- Require a client to sign, or supply a client with, a liability disclaimer or waiver should the prescription be inaccurately filled
Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently issued a report stating that the pet medications industry could potentially save owners money by becoming more competitive if:
- Consumers had greater access to portable prescriptions
- Non-veterinary retailers had greater access to supplies of pet medications, which are currently restricted by exclusive distribution and exclusive dealing arrangements put in place by manufacturers of pet medications
- Consumers had more low-priced generic animal drug options to choose from
The Fairness to Pet Owners Act hasn’t gone anywhere in the past, but with the FTC commission unanimously (5-0) approving the issuance of their report, I wouldn’t be surprised if the bill passes in the next few years.
No profession likes new regulations, so it’s not surprising that, as a group, veterinarians are opposed to anything that mandates we provide written prescriptions. In accordance with American Veterinary Medical Association policies and many state laws, veterinarians should already be providing written prescriptions when asked. If a veterinarian ever gives you grief for asking for a portable prescription, take it as a sign that you should be looking for a new veterinarian!
Personally, I think the Fairness to Pet Owners Act is a solution to a problem that doesn’t really exist, and I suspect that it has more to do with appeasing big retailers/political donors than “fairness to pet owners.”
While I disagree with the need for obligatory portable prescriptions, I do think the FTC makes good points regarding the need for low-priced generic animal drugs and for retailers to have greater access to supplies of pet medications. Generics have the potential to save owners a lot of money, thereby improving their ability to provide pets with the medications they need.
The “exclusive distribution” arrangements that drug manufacturers claim to have with veterinarians are by and large a joke and have led to the process of diversion. Pet medication retailers buy “vet-exclusive” products from aggregators who have deals in place with veterinarians who purchase more than they need and pass it along.
The legality of this practice is up for debate but enforcement of vet-exclusivity is non-existent. Since everybody takes their cut, getting rid of all these middle men would do more to bring prices down for pet owners than requiring veterinarians to write prescriptions ever could.
Dr. Jennifer Coates
Image: Sari ONeal / Shutterstock