6 reasons why the proposed Fairness to Pet Owners Act fails veterinary patients, practices

6 reasons why the proposed Fairness to Pet Owners Act fails veterinary patients, practices

The legislation is a solution to a nonexistent problem, veterinary business consultant writes in an open letter to Congress.
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Jun 25, 2015

This myth that veterinarians are greedy, monopolistic and unfair to clients is at the heart of new legislation in the U.S. Congress.

The Fairness to Pet Owners Act supports pet prescription drug portability and proposes making it a federal crime to deny pet owners access to a written or electronic script for their pet’s medication. 

I urge you to write your congressperson and share your thoughts or steal mine. (If you want your letter to be effective, you should tone it down more than mine.) Any legislation that drives animal healthcare away from our profession, grows big business, weakens small business and erodes opportunities to improve care isn’t fair. It’s folly.

An open letter to Congress

Dear Congressperson,

If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading it yet, the Federal Trade Commission’s report on competition in the pet medication industry is less than flattering for my veterinary profession.

It concludes that pet owners would be better served if 1) veterinarians were required to provide them written scripts for any prescribed drugs and 2) if exclusive veterinary drug channels were opened to larger markets. The report is well researched and objectively written, but it has an icky subtext—veterinarians and drug companies are in cahoots to monopolize pet healthcare for financial gain.

The report follows legislation recently introduced into the U.S. Senate by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). Like the FTC report, Bill S.1200 (The Fairness to Pet Owner Act) is misguided for six reasons:

The free market works. The Internet is packed with online veterinary service and product companies. 1800PetMeds reported $233 million worth of sales in 2014. It’s business suicide for me to have to advertise my competitors’ services with every client visit. 

The profession has checks and balances. Are you telling me that despite the fact that veterinary professionals are overseen by state boards, professional organizations like the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and a self-imposed, written code of ethics, we need a federal mandate to invite clients to shop at pillars of integrity like Walgreens?

Fairness should be mutual. When the client can’t give the shot, pill the cat, collar the dog or make the bird swallow, who answers that phone call? And who pays for the unused medicine or medical item? Our phones ring, and we eat the costs by discounting the pills, substituting the liquid form and making a video on using a pill popper. Does all of that work now shift over to Target and its team member in aisle 7?

Veterinary medicine is affordable. We do everything in our power to provide affordable pet healthcare to our clients, including giving away services, adjusting down our standards of care to meet pet owners’(often unrealistic) demands, educating on the cost-savings-benefits of preventive care (that they ignore), underpaying our team members and running businesses with slim to no profit margins. You want to take me to task about a 100 percent or more markup on drugs? Take a look at an overall pricing schedule that includes negative returns on pet neutering and vaccines—services that are not only important to our clients but to the health of our communities.

Prescriptions are my business. If clients want scripts, they get them. In fact, they get pretty much whatever they want. We regularly bend over backwards for clients. I have a pharmacy full of medications I oversee and guarantee. Selling them helps me stay in business. Thirty percent of my revenue comes from sales of prescription medications and parasiticides, whose market has already eroded. Additional erosion could mean the end of my business, and I don’t see how that’s fair, least of all to pet owners.

Exclusive drug channels benefit patients. Because of my exclusive arrangement with veterinary pharmaceutical companies, they provide my team access to continuing education that would otherwise be out of reach. Pharmaceutical companies collectively spend millions of dollars annually helping veterinary professionals improve their knowledge of animal medicine and animal care. For some of our paraprofessional team members, this is the only continuing education that they can afford or access. It’s education that reduces errors, increases productivity, increases client compliance to accepted standards of care and improves our patients’ quality of life. If you pull the plug on exclusive product channels with pharmaceutical companies, you pull the plug on access to affordable (often free) continuing education that has saved pets’ lives and improved pet care, nursing and service for decades.

Recognize the profession's value

Veterinary professionals, your clients don’t need federal protection from you or your pharmacy prices. They don’t need federally-mandated encouragement to shop at Wal-Mart, Target or any other business that’s not yours. Pet owners and pets alike are better off in your care and buying your services and products. No other entity can bring your clients the rectitude, professional oversight and emotional investment than you and your team bring to every client that walks in the door and every pet that you treat.

Bash Halow, CVPM, LVT, is a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and co-owner of Halow Tassava Consulting.