It’s Back to Work for AVMA Lobbyists

Knocking on doors in Washington can pay off when veterinary matters are at hand, but not all efforts are successful.

If the American Veterinary Medical Association had its way, the soring of walking horses would be illegal, all Internet purchases of pet products would be taxed and veterinarians working in underserved areas would get a better break on their student loans.

But given that Congress, not AVMA, passes the nation’s laws, all that the organization’s leaders and Governmental Relations Division can do is lobby representatives and senators on behalf of the veterinary industry.

By the time the 113th Congress’ two-year term expired Jan. 3, AVMA had tried, but failed, to push through three major bills: the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act, the Marketplace Fairness Act and the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act.

While AVMA employees are again knocking on congressional doors, sending emails and placing phone calls, the Governmental Relations Division’s director, Mark T. Lutschaunig, VMD, MBA, points to legislative successes.

In a document prepared for AVMA members, Dr. Lutschaunig wrote that the veterinary community had reasons to be pleased by news out of Washington, D.C., over the past two years. Acting on congressionally approved legislation, President Obama signed:

  • The Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act, which formally legalizes the drug-dispensing actions of many mobile and rural veterinarians.
  • The Farm Bill, a massive package that provides subsidies to farmers and funds an array of veterinary programs, including the National Animal Health Laboratory Network and the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.
  • The Animal Drug and Animal Generic Drug User Fee Reauthorization Act, which permits the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to collect fees from drug makers and fund faster reviews of new and generic animal drugs.

“AVMA was pleased to see many of our legislative priorities for veterinary medicine advance,” Dr. Lutschaunig stated in the document “AVMA Highlights from the 113th Congress.”

He also noted accomplishments unrelated to the business of law creation. These included the formation of the House Veterinary Medicine Caucus—a production of congressmen and veterinarians Ted Yoho and Kurt Schrader—and the Smithsonian Institution’s involvement in the traveling Animal Connections exhibit as part of AVMA’s 150th anniversary.

Acknowledging that Congress often has other priorities—fighting world terrorism and Ebola outbreaks, for example—Lutschaunig remarked that “our legislative work remains unfinished.”

“I expect that the AVMA will be working diligently to lower the cost of student loans, eliminate the withholding tax on the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program, stop the horrific practice of horse soring, ban the use of double-decker trailers for transporting horses, [secure] appropriations for key veterinary programs and more,” he stated.

AVMA warned of several bills that are “being sold under the guise of helping animal or human health” and that could re-emerge in the 114th Congress. Among them is the Fairness to Pet Owners Act, which would require veterinarians to provide all clients with a copy of a prescription, even when one is not requested.

Also on AVMA’s radar is the repeal of the Medical Device Tax, which exempts most, but not all, devices used in veterinary medicine.

“The concern for AVMA members,” the organization stated, “is that even though manufacturers are being hit with the tax, they could potentially pass it on to [veterinarians], which could raise the cost of providing animal health care.”

Lutschaunig remained hopeful.

“The 114th Congress is expected to be just as busy, but we hope to see more progress on our legislative initiatives,” he said. “Incoming Republican leadership has already signaled its support for an ambitious legislative calendar, promising more days in Washington to help bridge the partisan gap and get work done.”

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