By Nancy Carlson • Columnist • 

Bill raises questions about meds

I have lamented about it often enough that you already know — sometimes it is darn hard to come up with topics week after week. But I still feel the need to apologize for what might be my most boring column in the 10 plus years I’ve been writing it.

This week’s topic is HR1406, the Fairness to Pet Owners Act. If you need someone else to blame for this besides me, feel free to contact Martha Connors at BARK magazine who wrote the article “More Affordable Pet Meds” in the Money Matters section of the Winter 2012 issue. In context, I am writing this on Dec. 28, 2012, and any mention of the U.S. Congress or the Fiscal Cliff at this point causes my eyes to glaze over.

In light of the apparent apocalypse that was avoided at the last moment, HR1406 is not a very big deal. And, like a gazillion other things our constipated Congress considered this year, it didn’t pass. (Rumor has it that it will be reintroduced in 2013, but I’m not holding my breath.)

However, should it ever get out of committee and see the light of day, the Fairness to Pet Owners Act will require veterinarians to notify their human customers in writing that we have the option of filling the drugs our pets need at an outside pharmacy if we want to.

This is not too exciting, unless you start to do some price comparison between the cost of drugs from your vet and the price of the same kind of drug from a chain or online pharmacy. As an example, Blarney, our corgi, has a prescription to treat her unfortunate tendency to start dogfights with the rest of my pack, which, let me tell you, can be seriously disruptive to domestic bliss. The vet who sees her prescribes Reconcile — puppy Prozac — which costs about $55 for a month’s supply. However, I fill the prescription at Bi-Mart, which, for the generic drug, charges me just a little over half of that. It can add up to a substantial savings for me over the course of a year.

Back to HR1406. Not too surprisingly, Walmart and the National Association of Chain Drug Stores support this bill.

“This bill allows consumers a choice when it comes to prescription medication for their pets, and Walmart supports efforts that give our customers a say where they purchase medicines and enables them to save money,” said Molly Philhour, media relations rep for Walmart. Now, I may personally be a bit cynical about Walmart’s altruistic motives, but the truth is, in the short term, I often do save money when I shop there. And since my income seems to be shrinking while the cost of living appears to be swelling, this savings is important to me.

Opposing HR1406 is the American Veterinary Medicine Association. Ashley S. Morgan, DVM, who is the assistant director of governmental relations to that organization, told BARK magazine, “We’re not opposed to our clients having their pets’ prescriptions (filled at) accredited pharmacies. We don’t need a federal law to mandate something that most vets have been doing on their own for some time.”

In other words, Dr. Morgan thinks vets already tell people that they could get medications cheaper from larger pharmacies, so HR 1406 is redundant. In my experience, which I admit is a sampling of one, that is not always the case, although the vets I take my dogs to are always helpful about writing me a prescription to take with me when I ask.

Dr. Morgan continues to explain that the law will also cost vets revenue — 14 to 28 percent of a vet’s income is from in-house drug sales. Plus, with regulation inevitably comes paperwork, which may require more clinic staff. Both scenarios may very well add cost to our vet visits.

You may be similar to me in that our veterinarians are some of the most important people in our lives. They have to figure out what ails our four-footed family member without the aid of a common language. They celebrate our pets with us, get us through emergencies and comfort us at the inevitable endings.

In addition, my vet — and probably yours, too — does a lot of gratis work for Yamhill County Dog Control, Homeward Bound and, most likely, an unknown number of others who need a break when it comes to the cost of medical care for their beloved pets. I don’t know about yours, but while my vets seem to make a decent living, I would hardly call them wealthy.

How that helps you weigh in on the issue is up to you. As with a few other things in life, it’s complicated. Would I rather give my money to my vet or to Walmart and other large chains? I would rather give my money to my vet. But if I can save many dollars, Walmart starts to look more and more attractive.

I guess the good news is that, if this past year is any indication, Congress will never get HR1406 passed anyway, making it one more moral dilemma I’ll be able to avoid.

Nancy Carlson can be reached at

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