Commentary: Prescription-writing reluctance not financially motivated
Almost three years ago, in October 2012, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) generated a whole lot of noise when it convened a workshop on the pet medications market. Lots of folks opined about whether pet owners were truly able to get their pets’ prescriptions filled where they wanted and if they were getting the best prices possible on these drugs in a free market economy.
Well, after all the bluster, what followed was a very long period of deafening silence. I personally thought the FTC had decided not to issue a report at all (thanks in no small part to veterinarians’ eloquence during the workshop). But in late May the commission proved me wrong and released a 115-page tome. The report found that the pet medications industry could become more competitive if:
> Pet owners had greater access to “portable” prescriptions—or prescriptions that can be filled by someone other than their veterinarian.
> Nonveterinary retailers (Walmart and its ilk) had greater access to supplies of pet medications, which are currently restricted by exclusive distribution arrangements put in place by manufacturers.
> Pet owners had more low-priced generic animal drug options to choose from.
That first bullet point is where much of the conversation has focused in recent years, notably in relation to the Fairness to Pet Owners Act. This bill keeps getting introduced in Congress, session after session, and it calls on veterinarians to hand over a script every time they prescribe a medication. Despite the fact that Congress as a whole has shown little interest in debating the bill, the FTC report seems to imply that such a law would be in pet owners’ best interests.
The FTC says it’s heard numerous reports of veterinarians who are “reluctant” to give out prescriptions on request, regardless of the fact that they are bound by ethics and, in many cases, their state practice act to do so. Now, I’m sure there are some veterinarians who act this way out of financial self-interest, but I believe there’s a different reason for any reluctance veterinarians may feel as a whole to hand out prescriptions, and that’s this: Human pharmacies are screwing up.
Thinking they know better, pharmacists change the prescription or question the veterinarian’s judgment in the presence of the pet owner, putting the pet’s health or even life at risk. The FTC report acknowledges that these accounts exist but indicates that state pharmacy boards are not seeing complaints.
So here’s what I think: If this FTC report has enough clout to convince consumers and Congress that a law is necessary—which will most likely result in more Walmarts and Costcos filling more pet prescriptions—veterinarians are going to have to bring the thunder. If a pharmacist changes a veterinary prescription without consulting the prescribing doctor (as the pharmacist is legally bound to do), that veterinarian needs to file a complaint with the state board of pharmacy. Over and over, as many times as it takes.
Politics, practice profitability and special interests aside, veterinarians are the experts in pet health. And if dispensing medications leaves their clinics, they need to do what it takes to ensure patient safety.