By Kurtis Ming

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.

Comments (7)
  1. Robert Lee says:

    I would be really interested to find out what El Camino paid per 100ml… I’m guessing it was significantly lower than their mouthpiece is attempting to convey.

  2. Wayne says:

    It’s plain to see that customer goodwill means nothing to El Camino vet. I’m sure they were getting a HUGE markup on the medication and had no incentive to tell the client about the alternative. Only after the client learned on her own the true price did the mention of a more economical option occur. Maybe the lawyer is lawfully correct that a refund isn’t in required but I sure won’t be taking my animals to a business operating in that manner. I suggest you look for a vet you can trust.

  3. Thomas Bist says:

    Pet medications can also be bought thru 1-800-pet-meds. I believe all vets need to advise there pet owners every time any medication is needed. My family has 3 dogs and 2 cats buying meds thru our vet would empty out our pockets of every penny.

  4. C.Carter says:

    I was able to get my dogs medications through Wal-Mart for the generic Rx cost. They even labeled it -K9- so they even know its for a dog. Luckily my vet was honest and informed me to take the prescription somewhere as it would be cheaper. I don’t think most people are made aware that this is available to them and they do not have to purchase all meds through the vet. Some, yes some can only be purchased through the vet, but always a good idea to check with them first.

  5. Mary Ann says:

    at this point, I would also get a second opinion on the dog’s “life-long” medical condition.

  6. Ed Navarro says:

    I’ve taken my pets to El Camino Vet hospital on a number of occassions. They are one of the very few emergency hospitals available after work hours. Fortunately the care received resulted in favorable results with my pets. Positive results are what every pet owner wants.

    Over the years my family pets have received emergency services. El Camino didn;t push medications or unnecessary treatments. I would rate their services as outstanding, deligent and with concern to the family. In all cases they review with you the cost prior to treatment and will answer all of your questions. They provide you a detailed written estimate on the cost.

    It is their standard procedures for you to decide to receive follow-up treatment with your family vet or continue with them.

    Emergency treatment is not cheap considering the alternative to having a dead pet. Almost all pet owners I know, understand that purchasing medication from a vet is expensive. Most vest don;t have the purchasing power, inventory and facilities as Pet emporiums or on-line retailers. Vets aren;t in the retail business for pet products they just can;t compete. I’m pretty sure if you were to survey all vets the prices for pet medications would be extremely high. This is well known by all pet owners, who regularly bring their pets in. It may not be known for others who just bring in their pets when an emergency happens.

    As with all transactions with your vet, questions should have been answered at the start: costs, alternative treatments, generic medications, and long term treatment.

    In this case the owner should be extremely happy that her pet is alive. El Camino attempted to provide a resolution and her response was to put them on the grinder and attempting to make a profit from her pets illness.

  7. still kicking says:

    I’ve got an idea. Return the lady’s money and tell her that the next time her dog is dying to take it somewhere else. This story reminds me a bit of a case in the late 90s (?) where a man was rescued from drowning in the rough seas out past San Francisco. He then proceeded to sue the boat’s owner so he could get money in order to buy a new boat for himself. So much for gratitude.

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