Fairness to Pet Owners Act introduced in U.S. Senate
U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) has introduced S.B. 2756, a companion bill to the U.S. House’s Fairness to Pet Owners Act (H.R. 4023) filed in February, with Senators Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) as co-sponsors. While full text of the bill is still being logged by the government, the sponsor describes it as “a bill to promote competition and help consumers save money by giving them the freedom to choose where they buy prescription pet medications, and for other purposes.”
If the Senate bill reflects the terms of the House’s Fairness to Pet Owners Act, the two bills would require veterinarians to provide clients with written prescriptions for pet medications regardless of whether such a prescription is requested by the client. They would also prohibit veterinarians from charging a script-writing fee or asking clients to sign a liability waiver related to writing the script.
Schumer tweeted on July 20, “Fairness to Pet Owners Act will open up the pet meds market, allow owners to shop around and drive exorbitant costs down.” Blumenthal took to Twitter as well, stating, “I’m working on legislation with @chuckschumer that would allow pet owners to buy meds at a pharmacy or online.”
As the veterinary profession has repeatedly stated to all who would listen since the introduction of the first Fairness to Pet Owners bill in 2012, clients are already free to purchase medications outside of the veterinary clinic. Furthermore, veterinarians are ethically obligated to honor clients’ requests for a written prescription—in fact, in many states this is law. However, big box stores and online pharmacies have spent many an advertising dollar to capture the business of pet owners.
“It’s important to know that veterinarians support their small businesses in part through the sale of pet medications, which allows them to provide better healthcare services for their animal patients,” Morgan says. “Many people assume that medications are universally more expensive from veterinarians, but this is not always the case. Veterinarians are often able to match the prices offered by other pharmacies and offer the advantage of immediately dispensing medications to their clients, saving them an additional trip to the drugstore.”
The AVMA’s strategy for the Fairness to Pet Owners Act is “active pursuit of defeat,” according to its legislative agenda. An action alert encouraging members to oppose the bill states, “It is burdensome and unnecessary to require a written prescription be provided, regardless of whether or not the client is having the prescription filled by the veterinarian. Clients already have the flexibility to fill a prescription at their veterinary clinic or off-site at a pharmacy of their choice.”
Morgan also notes that a 2012 investigation by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) looking at consumer protection issues within the pet medications industry has not indicated any wrongdoing by veterinarians. The FTC said at the time of the hearing that it reserved the right to issue a report with recommendations for change in the industry, and no such report has been forthcoming.
The Fairness to Pet Owners Act is supported by a group called Advocacy for Pets and Affordable Wellness (APAW), which claims to be a national coalition of pet owners and advocates, though it is unclear who is actually behind the group. The website lists 45 retailers that fill pet prescriptions, including those with active lobbyists such as Walmart.
U.S. House Veterinary Medicine Caucus member Rep. Kurt Schrader, DVM (D-Ore.)—who with his caucus colleague Ted Yoho, DVM (R-Fla.) just successfully ushered the passage of the Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act through Congress—opposes the bill. “It is difficult to understand why this bill is remotely necessary,” Schrader says. “To me, this is a solution in search of a problem.”
Morgan calls the legislation an attack on veterinary small businesses. “We know that our clients face financial decisions and we support their right to choose what is best for their furry and feathered family members,” she says. “In those situations, we encourage our clients to talk to us about their concerns, but we do not feel that a sweeping federal prescription writing mandate on veterinarians is necessary.”
To access the AVMA’s action alert to oppose the Fairness to Pet Owners Act, go to avma.org.