House lawmakers scrutinize Fairness to Pet Owners Act at hearing
Posted June 1, 2016
AVMA Board of Directors Chair John de Jong in April told a House subcommittee that requiring veterinarians to provide portable prescriptions for all prescribed pet medications, regardless of whether clients request them, is unnecessary and unduly burdensome on veterinarians and small businesses.
The April 29 hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade Subcommittee addressed the pet medication industry, including the Fairness to Pet Owners Act (HR 3174/S 1200), legislation that would federally mandate prescription writing for veterinarians. The subcommittee is currently reviewing the House bill that is intended to address a purported lack of competition in the pet medication industry.
Dr. de Jong explained that, though prescription writing is not required by federal law, the AVMA Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics and its policy on “Client Requests for Prescriptions” direct veterinarians to write a prescription in lieu of dispensing a medication when desired by a client. Moreover, 36 states already have laws, regulations, or policies requiring veterinarians to provide clients with a written prescription on request, he said.
“(I)f this bill were to pass, veterinarians would still be required to provide the written prescription to these clients, take the piece of paper back, and then dispense the medication. This creates an administrative burden for veterinarians who should be spending their time and resources taking care of their animal patients,” Dr. de Jong said.
“Veterinarians,” he said, “understand that their clients must make financial decisions when planning and paying for services and medications, which is exactly why we support policies that give our clients the flexibility to choose where they fill their prescriptions.”
Dr. de Jong testified that veterinary clients can file a complaint with the state veterinary licensing board if they believe a written prescription was denied them. Even in states without such laws or regulations, state boards of veterinary medicine could find that failure to honor a client’s request for a prescription constitutes unprofessional conduct, leading to discipline against a veterinarian.
A companion animal practitioner himself, Dr. de Jong told subcommittee members that veterinarians have incentives other than the deterrent of disciplinary action to honor clients’ requests for prescriptions. “A veterinarian who denies such a request risks alienating clients and harming his or her practice,” he stated. “In cases where the patient’s condition may worsen quickly without medication and the client wishes to fill the prescription at a pharmacy, denial of a written prescription may place the veterinarian at legal risk.”
Claims that veterinarians are financially motivated to withhold prescriptions so clients will have them filled by the veterinary clinic are baseless, according to Dr. de Jong. He referenced a 2015 report in which the Federal Trade Commission found no evidence of veterinarians refusing to give a client a written prescription.
“Until we have real evidence showing that a problem actually exists, it is premature to consider such a sweeping federal mandate,” Dr. de Jong stated.
This (bill) creates an administrative burden for veterinarians who should be spending their time and resources taking care of their animal patients.”
Dr. John de Jong, chair,
AVMA Board of Directors,
testifying about the
Fairness to Pet Owners Act.
Also testifying before the subcommittee was Nathan Smith, vice president of strategy and international for True Science, a pet medication and wellness company headquartered in Eagle, Idaho. Smith said the Fairness to Pet Owners Act would ultimately make pet drugs more affordable and easier to obtain.
“This is not an ‘us versus them’ type issue,” he explained. “We believe that if the market for pet medication is opened to competition, everyone will benefit: manufacturers, veterinarians, pet owners, and pets alike.”
Smith called it a conflict of interest when the veterinarian is also the drug retailer who can prescribe or recommend medications manufacturers sell exclusively to veterinarians. Government action is needed, he said, because veterinarians can influence clients’ drug purchasing decisions.
“Having the prescription put directly and automatically into the hands of the consumer, without requiring the consumer to ask for it, sign a waiver, or pay a fee, is absolutely key,” Smith said. “That piece of paper lets the consumer know he or she has a choice.”
Tara Koslov testified on behalf of the FTC, where she’s deputy director of the Office of Policy Planning. Because the FTC believes portability likely benefits consumers, the commission generally supports policies that would increase both consumer awareness and veterinarian release of portable prescriptions, Koslov explained.
The FTC staff’s findings suggest consumers of pet medications may already benefit, to at least some extent, from price competition between veterinarians and alternative retailers, most notably for flea and tick control products and heartworm preventives, according to Koslov. Likewise, the benefits of price competition could be especially important for owners of pets with chronic health conditions that require the use of long-term medications, she said.
“Continued growth of retail distribution could increase competition and lead to even lower prices for pet medications in both veterinary and retail channels,” Koslov testified.
To learn more about why the AVMA opposes the legislation, visit “Prescription Mandates” on the AVMA website.
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