The so-called "Fairness to Pet Owners Act" sponsored by Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, is not about lowering the costs of medications for pet owners. It is about the government interfering with the operation of small businesses.
I will first state the bill is completely unnecessary. The ethical standards of our profession, as stated by the American Veterinary Medical Association, are clear that veterinarians are to provide written prescriptions instead of filling the prescription in-house whenever requested by the client.
According to drafts of the proposed legislation, the act would require veterinarians to provide our clients a written prescription, along with statement of client's right to have the prescription filled at the pharmacy of their choice, then allow them to hand it back to the veterinary staff if they wish the medication to be filled by the animal hospital.
This time-consuming and wasteful process would have to be done each and every time, even when the client does not want it. The choice of the pet owner is taken away in favor of a government mandate.
There is no question that this process will take additional time for the veterinarian and staff (which increases the cost of doing business) and makes the client wait longer at the hospital since filling prescriptions becomes a two step process. The cost of written notifications and prescriptions will also be significant.
The bill also creates potential problems for pharmacists and puts animals' health at risk.
One of the key roles of a pharmacist is to counsel a person in regard to the medication they are taking. Pharmacists are well-trained professionals who perform their jobs admirably. However, pharmacists are trained in human pharmacology and physiology. Animals are not simply small, furry people. Pharmacists are not trained in the differences between species or their unique drug doses and reactions. In some cases this can result in serious health risks to our pets.
It is also important to note that many drugs used for pets are developed, tested and approved for use only in animals. It is also a violation of federal law to use a non-veterinary product when a veterinary approved medication is available. Not only do local pharmacies not stock most of these medications, but the pharmacists are not trained in their uses and side effects.
Pharmacists should be leery of the increased liability this legislation creates for them in expanding their professional responsibility into areas in which they are not trained.
Matheson is falsely accusing the veterinary profession of unethical conduct in regards to the cost of prescription medications. Yes, we do make a profit from filling prescriptions. However, this helps offset other costs of doing business. Unlike Walmart or other super-store chains, your local veterinarian does not have candy and big screen TV sales to offset low-cost prescriptions. With or without drug sales, the veterinarian has real costs of doing business — equipment, building and staff being the most expensive. These expenses will have to be met one way or another for us to remain in business.
To claim that driving prescription drug sales to large pharmacy chains will automatically save pet owners money in the long run is economically naive. The "Fairness to Pet Owner's Act" will instead harm our small, locally owned businesses by increasing the cost of doing business with increased paperwork and supplies while removing a source of revenue.
The "Fairness to Pet Owners" Act is bad for our pets, bad for locally owned small businesses and potentially problematic for pharmacists.
Most importantly, it is a government intrusion into daily life that attempts to solve a problem that does not exist.
Drew L. Allen is a past president of the Utah Veterinary Medical Association.