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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on February 12th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 13, Issue 49 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 13, Issue 49

Pills for pets

Big-name pharmacies such as Costco are filling prescriptions for animals at low prices


Attention Central Coast pet owners: For the past year, Costco stores have been offering approximately 200 prescription pet medications to their club members at reduced prices.

This is welcome news to 77-year-old Solvang resident Hazel Mortensen, who started sending letters to the big box store’s headquarters several years ago, asking higher-ups to provide the lifesaving meds that are typically only available at veterinarians’ offices.

“I pestered them, I called them, and I wrote to them,” Mortensen recently told the Sun. “I’m so glad there’s an organization that cares. I think it’s horrible that there are animals and people dying because they can’t afford the medicine they need to take every day to live.”

The lifelong animal advocate said she started writing to Costco because she feels the “prices vets are charging these days are discouraging people from keeping their pets or getting new ones.”

“When you’re almost 78 years old, you can’t work or volunteer in a shelter lifting animals anymore, so I try to help [animals] in ways I can,” she said.

Rich Martinson, vice president of pharmacy operations and the director of Costco’s pet-care program, said Mortensen’s timing was serendipitous because the company had just launched a pilot pet prescription program in the Midwest.

“We saw an opportunity to lower costs for our members. We’re always interested in getting the best deal out there for our customers,” Martinson said.

He called the price difference “dramatic” for some shoppers, who he said can save anywhere from $50 to $70 a month on one prescription.

To compare some prices for this article, the Sun searched and then called the Santa Maria Costco pharmacy and two local veterinary offices. For Enalapril, a canine blood-pressure medication, 1800petmeds charged $8.10 plus the cost of shipping, Costco charged $5.69, and the vet’s office charged a little more than $19. For Humulin, a form of insulin for cats and dogs, 1800petmeds charged $89.99 plus the cost of shipping, Costco charged $81.61, and the vet’s office charged $100.

Martinson said customers’ reactions to the program have been overwhelmingly positive. However, some veterinarian associations and manufacturers are less thrilled.

“Some of the manufacturers do try to limit availability of the medications so it’s [obtained] through veterinarians only,” he said, adding that there have been claims that Costco’s pet medications come from other countries, which he said isn’t true.

Veterinary response, Martinson said, varies throughout the country: Some vets readily offer prescriptions whether they’re filled in-house or at a pharmacy; others charge fees for prescription writing if they’re filled at a pharmacy.

“Some vets embrace the program because they don’t have to deal with [filling prescriptions]. They can’t get close to the competitive price, and then more and more paperwork is being required by the states,” he said.

To address this issue, a U.S. Congressional representative from Utah introduced the Fairness to Pet Owners Act in 2011. The bill, which ultimately died in subcommittee, would have required veterinarians to write prescriptions regardless of whether they sold the product. Also, the bill would have called on vets to officially notify clients that they can fill prescriptions at veterinary clinics or at off-site pharmacies, and to verify prescriptions electronically.

The bill would have also banned veterinarians from charging fees for writing prescriptions or requiring clients to sign liability waivers should prescriptions be filled incorrectly at an offsite pharmacy.

The American Veterinary Medical Foundation called the bill redundant and said it would cause “undue regulatory and administrative burdens on veterinary practices.”

Additionally, the association said the bill would have encroached on state jurisdiction because pharmacy and veterinary practice laws already oversee compliance by veterinarians.

Chris Cowing, DVM, president of the California Veterinary Medical Association, said he agrees that HR 1406 was redundant because California law already includes a lot of the stipulations listed.

“State law requires written disclosure of the client’s right to obtaining a written prescription,” Cowing said. “And vets are required to provide a written prescription on request.”

He said the CVMA opposed HR 1406 because it would have required vets to write a prescription for each individual medication and to physically hand it to the client.

“Say we sent home a narcotic and wrote a prescription for a narcotic,” he said. “You think there might be some double dipping?”

Many medications animals take are the same kinds that humans take, just in different doses—which is another factor that concerns Cowing.

“Most human pharmacists don’t know much about medications for animals. There are different dosages for different species. Take something as simple as aspirin; yes, you can use it for a dog, but you can barely use it for a cat because they don’t have the enzyme to get rid of it,” he explained. “A pharmacist could say, ‘Yeah, you can use that on the cat,’ and they could end up killing the cat.”

When the Sun mentioned the possibility of some vets charging fees for writing prescriptions, Cowing said, “If somebody is doing what you’re saying, they may not understand what the law says. … If a client asks for a prescription, you have to give it to them.”

He said he prefers local pharmacies filling prescriptions to people getting their prescriptions online.

“When you go to Costco, you see who’s filling the prescription,” he said. “If it’s over the Internet, you have no idea who’s filling it.”

The online company might swap a generic medication for the brand name, which Cowing said can, in some circumstances, be less effective.

“It’s a question of are you getting what you’re paying for?” he said. “[Vets] do make some money from prescriptions, but it’s offset by the convenience of getting the prescription right now and being able to quiz the vet about it.

“Our job is to offer the best service to you and your pet and to make sure your pet is healthy,” he said.

Contact Managing Editor Amy Asman at

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