Pets aren’t cheap, especially when there’s a medical emergency. A Sacramento dog owner called Kurtis Ming after she felt her vet overcharged her for medicine. She was spending $100 every few weeks on her Pug’s medication. Then she learned she could get a lot more medicine for less than half the cost.
It’s easy to tell she’s a pug-lover. She has two. Bettie Lou is the one with her tongue hanging out.
“Her tongue is just too big for her mouth,” says Helen.
You’ll know the other Pug, Bogie is coming when you hear his snorts.
“They do everything with me. They go everywhere with me. They’re at the top of my list,” says Helen.
So you can imagine Helen’s horror when Bettie Lou was on the verge of death last May.
“By the time I took her in, she was so sick and I was hysterical that night. I said, ‘She’s going to die,'” Helen recalls.
She brought Bettie Lou to El Camino Veterinary Hospital in the Arden area.
“I know that they saved her life,” says Helen.
She was told her Pug had a life-long ailment requiring a daily dosage of a laxative called Lactulose. Every few weeks Helen paid El Camino Veterinary Hospital $100 for 200 milliliters of the drug, until her sister, who’s a nurse, recognized Lactulose as a drug given to humans too.
“My sister Mary said, ‘Why are you charging my sister so much for this medication? We give it to patients all the time and it’s very cheap,'” says Helen.
That’s when Helen says El Camino Veterinary Hospital offered to sell her a pint of Lactulose for $45.82. That’s more than twice the amount she was getting for less than half the price.
“You have the right to go to any pharmacy you want.” says Pharmacist John Richards, Owner of Professional Village Pharmacy.
Richards says some pet medications are only available through vets. But others are also given to humans, so you can get those from a regular, retail pharmacy.
“They can then go and ask, call around to their local pharmacy … and they can take that prescription into their pharmacy and ask, ‘Is this something I can get here?'” says Richards.
After Helen learned she could get Bettie Lou’s medication a lot cheaper from the same vet, she asked for some money back.
“I said, ‘I’d like refund or put it on my account at the hospital, or just give me some pints. And he said ‘Aint gonna happen.'”
Helen was offered one free pint, but she wanted more. So we got in touch with El Camino Veterinary Hospital.
The Vet’s Lawyer gave us this statement:
Recently, you contacted Dr. Zachary Morgan and El Camino Veterinary Hospital about a complaint from a client regarding the costs of a prescription medication. Because of considerations of client confidentially, Dr. Morgan has asked our law firm to respond to your inquiry. We are providing an explanation regarding the concerns you raised in your e-mail, but are refraining from using the client’s name, the pet’s name or other identifying information.
The client raised the issue with you over the cost of a medication, called Lactulose, which was originally prescribed for the pet when it was brought in during an emergency visit. The initial cost for the medication ($62 for 100ml) was higher than usual because it was dispensed during an emergency visit. As you are aware, costs for emergency care for animals, as well as people, are higher than routine care. This includes medication costs which are specially prepared during the emergency visits when the hospital’s operating costs are higher than during scheduled visits.
El Camino Hospital has routinely ordered Lactulose from its supplier in milliliter (“ml”) doses because the typical prescription is for a small amount. The client’s pet presented an atypical situation because it required an on-going, much higher dosage due to its medical condition. During the next visit to the hospital, the client was charged $100 for 200 ml. The client continued to pay the $100 for 200 ml until November 2010, when the hospital’s staff took the initiative and realized that they could save the client money by buying the Lactulose in a pint size and passing on the savings. El Camino subsequently charged the client $45.82 for the pint.
The client brought the price difference to Dr. Morgan’s attention, but he explained that he could not refund money because the hospital had incurred costs by purchasing the Lactulose in the milliliter doses. Dr Morgan offered the client a free pint of Lactulose, and other products at El Camino.
After bringing the matter to CBS’s attention, the client made a demand for $2000 from El Camino Veterinary Hospital which is well above and beyond the cost of the medications for the past year. We are Confident that your program does not wish to be used in this matter. Thank you for your consideration.
Elizabeth D. Friedman, Esq.
Simas & Associates, Ltd.
After asking a couple follow-up questions, Friedman emailed us this statement:
In response to your inquiry, we answer as follows:
1) El Camino Veterinary Hospital is not aware of any involvement in this matter on the part of the client’s sister. In response to the client’s concern about the price of the Lactulose, and the client’s inquiry whether another product could be used, the El Camino staff learned from the drug supply company that a larger (pint) size could be ordered. As explained in my earlier correspondence, the client’s animal takes a much larger dose than is typical. In the past, El Camino did not have the need to order Lactulose in a larger size.
2) The client has paid approximately $800 this past year for Lactulose. The client made a demand for $2000. The client’s demand is two and a half times more than the client actually paid for the medication. This demand is unreasonable and unfounded.
The client is not due a “refund.” As explained in our letter, the client was charged a price in accordance with the costs El Camino incurred in purchasing the smaller dosage of Lactulose according to its customary practice which reflects the dosage needs of most patients. Dr. Morgan graciously offered the client a free pint of Lactulose – the client declined this offer.
Thank you, Elizabeth Friedman
Without a refund, Helen is taking her business elsewhere and now getting Bettie Lou’s medication at a cheaper price. We called a few pharmacies to see how much they charge for Lactulose. One sells an even larger quantity for just $10.