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Cheaper pet drugs eyed

Proposed bills in Congress seek to lower the cost of prescription drugs for pets.
Proposed bills in Congress seek to lower the cost of prescription drugs for pets. Marc Selinger

Two U.S. senators have introduced a bill aimed at lowering the cost of prescription drugs for pets.

The proposed Fairness to Pet Owners Act (S. 2756), unveiled in late July by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), would require veterinarians to give their clients written prescriptions when recommending pet medications. Consumers would then have the option to shop around at brick-and-mortar and online pharmacies to find the lowest prices, instead of automatically buying from their veterinarians.

Blumenthal and Schumer said that under current law, veterinarians effectively have a monopoly that allows them to sell pet drugs at a “significant markup.” The senators said that by increasing competition, their legislation would drive down prices and save pet owners millions of dollars a year. Their bill is modeled after the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumer Act, a 10-year-old law that they credited with reducing prices for contact lens consumers by 20 percent.

The bill, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), was referred to the Senate Commerce Committee for consideration.

Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah), introduced a similar bill in the House in February. His proposal is pending before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Enacting such legislation into law won’t be easy. The American Veterinary Medical Association, which represents more than 85,000 veterinarians, opposes both bills, saying they are “burdensome and unnecessary” because veterinary clients are already free to ask for written prescriptions. The association also said it is premature to consider such a measure because the Federal Trade Commission is conducting a review of competition and consumer protection issues in the pet medications industry.

Pet drugs are big business. Americans spent nearly $7 billion for prescription and over-the-counter pet medications in 2011, according to the commission.