CMA Considers Capping Vet Prescription Fees Amid Sector Probe

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The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is contemplating a cap on veterinary prescription fees as it delves into the sector to address concerns that pet owners are being overcharged for treatments.

The formal investigation by the CMA comes after it received 56,000 responses from pet owners, vets, and charities following a review initiated last year. The review aimed to gather insights on whether consumers were paying excessively for veterinary services and medications.

The CMA highlighted that pet owners often struggled to afford vet bills and were not always provided with clear treatment options or pricing information. The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has welcomed the review, labelling the regulation of the sector as “woefully out of date.”

The watchdog estimates that 16 million UK households have at least one pet. According to the Office for National Statistics, the cost of veterinary and other pet services has surged by around 50% since 2015, significantly outpacing overall inflation.

One of the major concerns raised by the CMA is the consolidation of the vet market, with more than half of UK vet practices now owned by just six large corporations: CVS, Independent Vetcare Ltd, Linnaeus, Medivet, Pets at Home, and VetPartners. This consolidation may reduce consumer choice, as these corporations often retain the branding of independently-owned practices they acquire, potentially creating an “illusion of competition.”

The CMA’s investigation will focus on several key areas:– Whether consumers receive adequate information to make informed decisions.– The impact of limited choice of vets in certain areas on pet owners.– The profitability of vet businesses.– Whether vet businesses have the incentive and ability to limit consumer choice when providing treatments or services.– The need for regulatory changes in the market.

Possible interventions by the CMA could include enforcing transparency in pricing and treatment information, imposing maximum prescription fees, and even mandating the sale or break-up of large veterinary businesses.

Sarah Cardell, the CMA’s chief executive, stated, “We’ve heard from people who are struggling to pay vet bills, potentially overpaying for medicines and don’t always know the best treatment options available to them. The message from our vets work so far has been loud and clear – many pet owners and professionals have concerns that need further investigation.”

Malcolm Morley, the BVA’s senior vice president, expressed support for the inquiry, emphasizing that the BVA has long raised similar concerns. He noted that independent vet practices often face higher wholesale medicine prices than those available to consumers online, further complicating the pricing landscape.

The CMA’s findings and any resulting actions could significantly reshape the veterinary market, aiming to enhance transparency, affordability, and choice for pet owners across the UK.

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