Kansas veterinarians remain under scope of consumer-protection act

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Topeka, Kan. - Veterinarians remain vulnerable to consumer complaints and lawsuits despite legislative efforts in Kansas to exempt health-care professionals.

TOPEKA, KAN. — Veterinarians remain vulnerable to consumer complaints and lawsuits despite legislative efforts in Kansas to exempt health-care professionals.

Although already governed by licensing statutes and federal and state laws, the health-care industry will continue to fall under the added checks-and-balances system of the Kansas Consumer Protection Act (KCPA).

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius vetoed a bill that would prevent consumers from seeking damages against health-care professionals for "deceptive" and "unconscionable" acts under the KCPA.

"The enactment of the KCPA was for the purpose of protecting those consumers who had not yet been afforded protection under the common law," testified Anne Kindling, president-elect of the Kansas Association of Defense Counsel, in support of the bill at a hearing. Intended to benefit consumers who had been wronged by suppliers in the marketplace, the act should not infringe on the patient/health-care-provider relationship — already monitored by existing safeguards, Kindling says.

"Kansas veterinarians are already held accountable for standards of professional conduct and subject to disciplinary action for unprofessional conduct in a number of Kansas and federal statutes," says Gary Reser, Kansas Veterinary Medical Association (KVMA) executive vice president, arguing veterinarians' inclusion in the KCPA is unnecessary.

Gov. Sebelius says she and Kansas Attorney General Paul Morrison agreed that modifying the KCPA weakened protection for consumers and unfairly granted special consideration to one industry.

"The vast majority of health-care professionals uphold the highest standards and operate in a manner that is beyond reproach. However, as with every industry, there are those who seek to commit deliberate deception. Therefore, to protect Kansans from deceptive practices," the bill was vetoed, Sebelius says.

As it stands, the state Consumer Protection Department will continue to receive complaints and refer them to the Kansas Board of Veterinary Examiners, Reser explains.

The bill's final language excluded only those professions that face personal-injury and death lawsuits, thus not applicable to DVMs, Reser says. Distinguishing veterinarians from human-health fields may be a benefit in the long run, he says. "Many of those professions are also subject to lawsuits for economic damages and emotional loss. We could have opened the door to being sued for emotional loss. It might have been a double-edged sword," Reser says.

KVMA will continue to review the issue to determine if any future action should be taken. "I was disappointed this time around, but I really do think we need to look at it harder next time and proceed cautiously on it," Reser says.

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