Politics & Policy columnist Mark Cushing is a political strategist, lawyer, founding partner of the Animal Policy Group and founding member of the Veterinary Virtual Care Association. Since 2004, he has specialized in animal health, animal welfare, and veterinary educational issues and accreditation. He is the author of “Pet Nation: The Inside Story of How Companion Animals Are Transforming Our Homes, Culture and Economy.”Read Articles Written by Mark Cushing
The Veterinary Innovation Council kicked off VMX 2018 with the launch of an exciting new platform serving veterinary professionals, industry and pet owners alike — one that gives them a say in legislative efforts and policymaking around the country.
The mere mention of “politics” sends many scurrying for cover. But the fact is political decisions shape, or threaten to shape, the veterinary industry and many matters affecting pet health and welfare.
The new organization, PetsPAC, is designed to give a voice to and build political clout for organizations and pet owners who care about the quality of life of pets. Let me explain.
What Is a PAC?
A political action committee, or PAC, is a vehicle created by state legislatures and Congress to enable organizations and individuals to pool funds and speak as one voice on issues of common interest. Federal PACs, such as the American Veterinary Medical Association Political Action Committee, focus on federal issues and may accept contributions from individuals only, not from corporations or unions. State PACs may accept money from individuals and corporations in most cases and enable interested parties to have an impact on state legislatures.
Laws governing veterinarians and companion animal welfare almost always are the province of state legislatures and agencies. Other than with the Fairness to Pet Owners legislation, Congress rarely gets involved in laws affecting companion animals or companion animal veterinarians.
What’s surprising is that a PAC has never represented companion animal interests in the states, despite thousands of bills of interest being introduced every year in legislatures around the United States. That changes with PetsPAC.
The Main Objectives
- Focus exclusively on state legislatures and agencies in all matters affecting pets. Oppose bad legislation to stop it from becoming law.
- Promote positive initiatives in a range of areas including veterinary practice, telemedicine, animal welfare, animal abuse, access to pet-friendly housing and veterinary nursing.
- Use a panoply of tools to have an impact, in some cases providing money to state veterinary medical associations to support their legislative work and in other cases investing directly in lobbyists, grassroots tactics and social media to generate legislative support.
PetsPAC is able to accept contributions from everyone and is not limited to veterinarians like member PACs such as the AVMA PAC. And in most states, PetsPAC will be able to use direct contributions from companies and other organizations.
The board of directors is being formed in the first half of 2018 and will be chaired by Charlotte Lacroix, DVM, JD, a Today’s Veterinary Business columnist and a lawyer who focuses her practice exclusively on veterinary medicine. The PetsPAC website, www.PetsPAC.com, is under construction and will accept direct contributions.
Reaching Pet Owners
A unique feature of PetsPAC will be outreach to pet owners across America; to inform them of important issues happening in the states and provide them with an opportunity to get involved.
Pet owners care deeply about their pets, and these concerns don’t stop at the edge of political waters. People want to know what’s going on and how it might affect them, and even more importantly, how to get involved to protect their interests. Imagine the political power of veterinarians and pet owners side by side pushing for legislation to protect pets and having the resources to make a difference.
PetsPAC will offer quarterly webinars with public officials, experts and other opinion leaders providing live interviews, debates and question-and-answer sessions. Supporters will be able to question legislators and decision-makers in states in which PetsPAC is engaged, regardless of where one lives. The webinars will be accompanied by quarterly updates to supporters about activities in legislatures across the United States. Look for the first webinar in the third quarter of 2018.
The website and operations should be up and running in April. Plenty of time will be available to prepare for the November elections and for legislatures starting up in early 2019.
UPDATE: VETERINARIANS AND OPIOIDS
The national drumbeat is growing louder for politicians to deal with the growing opioids abuse crisis. Both parties in Congress and virtually every state legislature have declared this to be their No. 1 issue in 2018.
Many states jumped in last year. What’s changing is the number of states pulling veterinarians into the equation.
First, let’s take a look at the maps to see where things stand:
We are seeing legislation clearly fall on one side or the other — veterinarians are part of the solution or still exempted. States that introduced legislation this year based on the opioid crisis are attempting to change the way “prescribing providers” do one or all of the following:
- Register with the state Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP).
- Access the PMP before writing a prescription.
- Report to the PMP after writing a prescription.
- Reduce the burden of reporting to the PMP.
- Prescribe controlled substances electronically.
- Restrict the dose of a controlled substance.
- Require continuing education on opioids, controlled substances or pain management.
- Specifically exempt veterinarians from the state PMP program.
Organized veterinary medicine has been vigilant in urging legislatures to exempt veterinarians from Prescription Monitoring Program requirements. The argument has been that veterinary medicine is only a fraction of the opioids abuse story, at most anecdotal, and that costs for individual practices to comply with PMP is unreasonably high.
Legislatures are seeing bills taking this head on and saying:
- All medical providers must step up to the plate.
- Dosage restrictions should be part of the solution.
- Pharmaceutical manufacturers or distributors should pay a gross receipts tax on opioid medications that can be passed up the chain.
- Veterinarians have options in how they comply with PMP requirements so that the burden is reduced.
Most of the legislative activity in 2018 is a quiet effort to persuade legislators to treat veterinary medicine differently than human medicine for a host of reasons, anchored by a view that this is fundamentally a crisis in human health care and that a paucity of data links opioid abuse to pet health care.
The challenge for the veterinary industry is to avoid triggering a public debate positioned as veterinarians trying to avoid any responsibility for dealing with opioid abuse when state governments are looking for any and all solutions. Headlines and news stories along these lines will not be helpful for anyone and will surely build pressure on veterinarians to accept the full range of options being placed on the table.
The other issue is more internal within the animal health industry, namely whether the right thing to do is address these problems rather than try to avoid liability. This moral issue comes with a price tag — not equal for all parts of the veterinary profession — so the debate will be difficult.