Blog: Veterinary issues to watch in 2015 Congress


Pet medications bill still kicking; new grants could provide opportunities for rural veterinarians.

Congress is back in session with a new Republican majority in charge of the Senate and a White House chastened from midterm losses. So what should veterinary medicine expect? Well, animal health may not have been the fulcrum of 2014 midterm elections, to be sure, but there will be critical action for veterinarians early on in 2015.

The pet medications bill returned in the summer of 2014 under the sponsorship of Democratic Senators Charles Schumer and Richard Blumenthal, notwithstanding the failure of a similar bill to move even an inch in the House of Representatives since the fall of 2010. While the change in control in November augurs well for veterinarians opposed to this legislative effort to drive pet owners from veterinary clinics to big box retailers, the bill will still be refiled with at least one Republican sponsor. Odds have improved, but a fight remains and the profession must stay vigilant.

A promising opportunity rests with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the agriculture subcommittees of the House and Senate appropriations committees. The Farm Bill was one of the few bills passed by both houses in 2014 and signed into law by President Obama. Buried in the legislative text was authorization for a new program: the Veterinary Services Program Grants (VSPG).

This innovation will enable the One Health concept to take root in underserved rural communities by encouraging programs that enhance both animal health and public health in the least populated counties across America. One program within VSPG will enable rural practitioners to supplement practice revenues with up to $25,000 per year in their service as local public health officers. The legislation authorizes a range of rural-friendly veterinary programs.

The challenge is for the USDA to write effective implementation rules and to convince congressional appropriators to fund the launch of VSPG in the range of $10 million per year. The American Veterinary Medical Association and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges have appointed a working group led by Auburn Dean Calvin Johnson to work with the USDA and to drive a lobbying effort to fund VSPG (your blogger is part of the team). This will open the door for many veterinary school graduates to pursue opportunities in rural America with the promise of a viable wage combining private practice with a public health appointment.

Veterinary medicine is popular with lawmakers, but it doesn't receive a fair share of federal dollars to support innovation and critical research. Let's hope that VSPG is the exception.

Mark Cushing, JD, is founding partner of the Animal Policy Group, providing government relations and strategic services for various animal health, veterinary and educational interests. He maintains offices in Portland, Ore., and Washington, D.C., and is a frequent speaker at veterinary conferences.

The Veterinary Policy Notes blog on helps veterinarians and other animal health professionals keep abreast of the growing number of issues, political challenges and regulatory initiatives affecting the veterinary profession, animal health industry and animal welfare movement. The views and opinions presented are those of the author.

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