Monday, January 5, 2009

Prescription Drugs

Dad's been speaking to the doctor today and trying to find a more cost effective way of continuing my treatment. Not being insured turns out to be rather costly after all, but it's all about accepting certain risks. In my case it hasn't really paid off.

Insurance quotes for me ranged from £28-£33 per month, which is rather a lot of cash. I guess until mum and dad got really attached to me, they thought that a little too much to take on. Hopefully in hind sight they now see it as a small price to pay for a lovable monster like me.

Now with my current condition over the past few months the vet bills have grown more than mum and dad can afford - dad's been looking at some other options. It's not about the doctor, as I know dad's really pleased with them, the service is great, it's just about the money.

The two drugs that I'm taking (Epiphen and Previcox) work out at £69.35 per month when supplied by the vet.  This is made up of:

Description Quantity Price Per Tablet
Epiphen (60mg)90 £23.12£0.256
Previcox (227mg)30 £46.23£1.541
Total £69.35

Now if dad goes online to many of the online pet pharmacies - and you too can just simply Google for almost any of them you'd see prices like this:

DescriptionQuantityPricePer Tablet
Epiphen (60mg)90£10.80£0.12
Previcox (227mg)30£24.80£0.826

Can you believe that? Half the price that my friendly and so very helpful vet is charging! And I do mean friendly and helpful, as they are.  But the huge difference in price really has to be considered - especially with no insurance.

But things are not that straight forward. Since October 2008 veterinary practices can now charge for prescribing these drugs - which in itself isn't unfair, there has to be a cover for the administration of writing and recording prescriptions, or the vet would lose out. But the law now allows vets to charge anywhere up to £60 per prescription. Not that many do or would charge that much - but the law allows for it.

Thankfully my vet has set it's prescription charge at £7.20 per prescription. But that charge increases as I need two prescription drugs, so works out at £9.99. However, they will not provide a 3 month prescription, meaning this will require monthly prescriptions at £9.99 each month. Quite a money spinner as my medication is for a lifelong ailment, my vet is guaranteed £120 per year, for as long as I live.

Taking the vets prescription charges into account
there is still a huge saving of £23.76 per month (£285.12 per year)!

I'll still need to visit the doctor regularly for tests and checkups, so they'll still make money on my visits, but it still seems like there's £120 per year that they are making without any real effort.  I guess they have to protect themselves from people taking advantages of free prescriptions and not taking any of the vets services, but as we're paying for every consultation and test, it seems a better way would be to either offer repeat prescriptions or free prescriptions only where a contract of care between surgery and owner exists.

If a prescription were only issued at the time of consultation and valid only until the next, surely it would be fairer? As I must visit the vet every three months it doesn't sound unreasonable to have a three month prescription - instead I must get a prescription each month.

Dad did phone around other local vets and whilst very, very helpful the feedback was that the prices my vet are charging are typical of the industry. In fact the information regarding the change since October 2008 came from speaking to other practices.

Some very frank responses to the questions regarding drug costs expressed that veterinary surgeries often have high prescription charges simply to ward off bargain hunters, like myself, and attempt to keep the drug revenue within the practice. But if Internet sellers can supply and make money at the prices they charge I find it hard to believe that veterinaries aren't obtaining drugs at better prices and making huge mark ups.

There certainly seems like a large element of self preservation where practices are attempting to hold their market share simply by making the legislation work in their favour. No drugs without prescription, means cheap drugs only if you buy an expensive prescription. I feel certain that in some cases the cost of prescription means cheap drugs are not a viable alternative. In my case it seems there is an option - but how many could benefit by a fairer prescription process?

So far that's the best deal we've got. It's a good saving, but still an awful lot of money year on year. I'll update as we learn more.

UPDATE: Sad to say I missed the deadline in 2008 where the government were petitioned in regard to prescription charges. The governments response can be found here []

The Government is committed to delivering free and fair markets, with greater competition, for businesses, consumers and employees.

That is why the Government introduced the Supply of Veterinary Medicinal Products Order in 2005 to create a market for veterinary medicines away from veterinary surgeries. The Order was introduced following a Competition Commission report which found that the veterinary profession tended to understate the true cost of their professional services and offset this in their medicines pricing. This practice can allow two detrimental effects:

· Veterinary surgeons can hide excess profits in drug prices; and
· Inadequate pressure on manufacturers to maintain competitive drug prices.

The Competition Commission felt strongly that a three-year moratorium on prescription charges was essential to allow animal owners to become used to the availability of free prescriptions and encourage them to shop around. The availability of prescriptions was seen as the key element in opening up the prescription-only veterinary medicines market, increasing competitive pressure and driving prices down. High prescription charges had been a barrier to customers doing this in the past, but the three-year prohibition would kick-start the market.

The independent Office of Fair Trading (OFT) will be monitoring developments after the prohibition on charging for providing prescriptions comes to an end in October 2008 and will consider when and whether any further regulatory action may be needed to ensure effective competition in the supply of veterinary medicines.

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