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Revived ‘Fairness to Pet Owners’ Bill Rankles Vets

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In a renewed attempt to push through a bill that failed two years ago, members of Congress are once again proposing what they call the Fairness to Pet Owners Act. If passed, the new law would require veterinarians to write prescriptions for many pet medications, regardless of whether the customer asks for the prescription.

The intent of the bill is to encourage pet owners from buying their prescriptions from sources other than the vet, on the premise that this opens up more competition and potentially saves pet owners money.

The American Veterinary Medical Association opposes the bill, as it has in the past, calling it an unnecessary burden and arguing that pet owners already have the freedom to purchase their medications from an alternate source if they choose.

A 2012 version of the bill, HB 1406, also required vets to give customers a written list of options for where they could purchase their pet meds. HB 1406 never made it out of committee. That requirement is not in the current version, which is sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jim Mattheson (D-Utah) and is known as HB 4023.

If successful, the bill could theoretically open up new opportunities for retailers who might look into selling pet medications, although chain drug stores like CVS and Walgreens would seem to be in a stronger initial position to take advantage.

Veterinarians, including several who serve in Congress, have voiced a concern that outside retailers could make mistakes attempting to fill pet med prescriptions written by vets. They also argue that a prescription requirement is unnecessary because most states already have laws requiring vets to write a prescription if a pet owner asks.

During the 2012 debate on the unsuccessful HB 1406, the Federal Trade Commission held hearings on the bill and on larger issues pertaining to mandatory prescriptions and other proposed consumer protections for pet owners. The FTC is still working on a report stemming from those hearings, and members of the AVMA are urging that all sides at least wait until the release of the FTC report before taking action on any new legislation.

In an interview with Veterinary News, U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, a Democrat from Oregon and also a practicing veterinarian said, “I think it would have been useful to wait for the FTC’s findings before introducing legislation. My principle concern has always been that this bill could lead to violations of doctor-patient confidentiality, and allow uninformed retailers to make decisions about medication protocols without the patient or the doctor’s consent.”

- Dan Calabrese

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