The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has released the draft agenda for an upcoming meeting that could shake up the veterinary pharmaceutical sector.
The meeting, "Competition & Consumer Protection Issues in the Pet Medications Industry," was first announced in June 2012, and was called in response to FTC's perception that consumer-focused veterinary medications were subject to anti-competitive pricing and access issues.
"American consumers spend a tremendous amount of money on medications for their pets every year," FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz explained in a statement in June. "High prices on these medications mean that consumers have less money for necessities. It's important that these medications are safe and effective, and that pet owners get the benefits of a fair and robust marketplace."
Quality and Authenticity Concerns Raised
In a separate Federal Register notice at the time, FTC explained it was particularly concerned about the quality, authenticity and safety of medication reaching consumers, particularly through retailers and secondary suppliers. FTC wrote that the workshop would, among other issues, consider, "Consumer's ability to verify the safety and effectiveness of the pet medications they buy."
The discussion is set to focus heavily on industry distribution practices for veterinary medications, including what FTC referred to as, "Vertical restrictions imposed by manufacturers and the emergence of a secondary distribution system."
"We've heard that some pet medicine manufacturers choose to distribute their products only through veterinarians, so retail outlets and pharmacies cannot purchase product directly from the manufacturer," said Tara Koslov, acting director of FTC's Office of Policy Planning. "It's possible that kind of distribution leads to inefficiencies and higher prices, because it adds costs to the distribution system. It might also trigger concerns about product supply and quality."
Because many consumers also purchase their pet medications through non-veterinary retailers and pharmacies, FTC said it is also concerned about whether consumers are able to verify the authenticity of medications, which are not necessarily held to the same supply chain security standards as pharmaceutical products intended for human consumption.
Obtaining Prescriptions: Contact Lenses as a Model?
The way in which prescription pet medications are dispensed to consumers could also stand to change in the future, said FTC. Participants at the meeting are set to discuss the portability of prescriptions and whether further legislation is necessary to address entrenched problems.
As it stands, many consumers are forced into purchasing their prescriptions from their veterinarian, said Koslov. But that doesn't make sense for consumers in all situations, she said.
"A classic example might be a long-term maintenance drug, such as heartworm preventatives or chronic arthritis products," said Koslov. "A consumer might prefer to do some comparison shopping to find the lowest available price, which may beat a retail pharmacy."
The model for this sort of proposal could eventually be the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act, which allowed consumers to physically obtain a prescription and then shop around for the best value.
"The analogy may not be perfect, but we definitely think it's worth exploring," concluded Kaslov.
The workshop will be held on 2 October and will be open to the public.