For the past several Congressional sessions, a bill has re-occurred called the “Fairness to Pet Owners Act”. The premise behind this bill is that veterinarians would be required to write a prescription to every client that could then be filled at whatever pharmacy the client prefers. Currently, veterinarians are not required to write a script, however, most will do it upon request. This sometimes has an accompanying “script fee”. The sponsors of the bill believe that it will increase the competitiveness of the veterinary drug market. Although the act has not advanced this session, before next year begins I thought we could run this idea past the Smell Test to see if it would hold water.
To really understand a bill, you need to look at its sponsors. In this case, national chain-store human pharmacies want this one passed. They see the veterinary prescription market as a potential business expansion, where they can undercut small veterinary clinics prices by selling larger volumes of drugs.
While this may have the short-term benefit of decreasing drug costs for pet owners, as a veterinarian I know the long-term ramifications are going to make veterinary health care more expensive. Consider the livestock veterinary drug market, which is made up more predominantly of vaccines and parasite control products. Neither of these have been perscription drugs (note: nearly every antibiotic used in livestock IS a prescription drug, or will be by January 1st of 2017). While local veterinarians were the initial suppliers of these products to clients, other companies got into the business and undercut the vet. Since this took profit away from the veterinarian, clinics in very rural areas were unprofitable. They either lost veterinarians or closed altogether.
Small animal medicine utilizes more prescription medications, consequently it has not gone through this change. While the number of vet clinics is unlikely to decrease due to the oversupply of small animal vets, that profit will have to be made up in another fashion. More than likely it will come through increased costs for examinations and diagnostics. In the end, this leads to veterinary care costing pet owners more, because instead of paying only the veterinarian for his or her efforts, now both the veterinarian and the pharmacy need to be paid. It’s one of these “step over a dollar to save a dime” solutions often advocated by government officials and crony capitalists.
If you feel that your veterinarian is overcharging you for medications, there is an easy solution that doesn’t require an act of Congress–change vets. The vast majority charge about the same price for drugs; maybe a little more for one, but then a little less for the other. If someone is really gouging clients, then that vet will lose business. My personal suggestion is to not go to the first vet your find on your Google search, but one that friends and neighbors recommend. That idea smells a lot better than using Congress to squeeze more money from pet owners, which smells like dog diarrhea if you ask my opinion.
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