Walmart: Will you save money? Will your pet live better?

Last year we wrote about a proposed federal law that would require veterinarians to provide all pet owners with written information about off-site (read non-veterinarian) options to fill pet prescriptions (we’ve included the text of that blog below). The bill is still working its way through Congress but it has gotten new attention with the announcement from FidoPharm that it is unveiling a prescription-only generic heartworm medication that will only be available at Walmart pharmacies.

This is the latest in a series of events that is changing the veterinarian-patient relationship and the veterinarian practice model. While some argue these changes are positive as consumers continue to educate themselves on both treatment and cost alternatives others see it as the commoditization of veterinary medicine.

It is pretty clear that purchasing your pet’s medicine at places like Walmart will save you money on your pet’s health and safety budget, but is there a cost to this savings and why are pet meds so expensive to start?

According to Dr. James Wilson of Priority Veterinary Management Consultants, as reported in DVM Magazine, pet meds are so expensive at a veterinarian’s office because veterinarians have been using prescription medicines as a profit center to subsidize the cost of other veterinary services which they have underpriced.  The result is the drugs are being sold at 2 to 2-1/2 times their cost. Since Walmart is not (at least as of yet) practicing veterinary medicine it is not using drugs to offset losses in other areas and can sell the drugs cheaper. But if we start buying our meds at Walmart will veterinarians just raise prices on other services to offset the loss?

The questions remain:

(1) If veterinarians need to charge pet parents (like us) more money for pet meds is it worth it because of all the other value the veterinarians add beyond simply writing a prescription?

(2) If veterinarians started charging us for the value of all their services rather than subsidizing them with higher cost medicines, will we pay for those services or stop purchasing them completely (because at least right now we can’t go to Walmart and get them)?

Thanks for reading!

Pet Prescriptions: Will A Proposed Federal Law Save You Money?

The American Veterinary Medical Association, the California Veterinary Medical Association and other groups have lined up to oppose proposed federal legislation that would require veterinarians to provide written information to pet owners about off-site pharmacy options to fill pet prescriptions.

The proposed legislation (H.R. 1406 for you federal legislation junkies who want to read the whole thing) was introduced by Jim Matheson a Democrat from Utah (that there is a Democratic representative from Utah is enough fodder for a host of other blog postings) is modeled after the Contact Lens Consumer Act and is designed to allow pet owners a chance to price shop prescriptions. According to data released from Matheson’s office (as reported in DVM Magazine) “a study of 18 common pet medication found that on average consumers who purchase from prescribers pay a 248 percent markup over average wholesale prices.”

The veterinarian groups are arguing that the proposed legislation places unfair burdens on veterinarians (who generally are small businesses) by increasing the amount of paperwork required to prescribe medication (whether the medicine is dispensed by the veterinarian or not), that there are state laws in place to address this issue, and that the veterinarian’s office is the best place for medical decisions about a pet to be made.

As a large consumer of veterinary prescribed products (from rimadyl for an older dog to fluids and prescription food for a cat in renal failure) and one who sees lots of pet meds at our pet care services facility in San Francisco, I am often astounded by the cost of these products. Recently Walgreen’s began pitching a prescription coverage plan (not insurance they are quick to add) that covers pet medicines.

Like all consumers I want to pay a fair price for what I get and am intrigued by the lower cost options that I hear about. That said, I also immensely value the skill my veterinarian brings to problem solving and the relationship I have with my veterinarian. I also understand that sometimes paying more for something is worth it when you are getting more than a fungable commodity.

What’s your take on all this? Are veterinarians taking advantage of pet owners or is paying more worth it for everything else they do for us