In 2014, I got a whole bunch of people fired up by writing a piece called “No Obamacare for Dogs” that spoke to the issues people face when they arrive at the vet ER without enough funds to pay for a pet’s needed care.
And here we are now, three years later, same old same old. Somewhere, in the United States, a pet has arrived at an ER and the owner was unable to afford the estimate. Chaos ensues. Nothing new, really, and here we are again waiting for someone else (read, the veterinary emergency clinics) to solve the problem.
Now I get that this is an emotional topic, and understandably so. I think there is room for compassion both on behalf of a pet owner in a bad situation and a veterinary professional who is being asked to do the impossible. But in order to move forward- to really try and make a difference- we need to lay out some simple truths here.
1. You Can’t Compare ER Costs to Your Regular Vet
A 24 hour ER is expensive to maintain. It’s not considered an essential public service like human hospitals and no one will bail them out if they run out of cash, so the owners have to run it like a business or else they shut down. Overnight staff make more money because they earn it. It makes it hard to have a normal life, it affects your family and often your health, and if they weren’t being compensated well no one in their right minds would do it.
As emergency services they have to maintain a lot of high-end, high-cost equipment and medications. Overhead is huge. If they have a criticalist on staff, surgeons on call, 24 hour RVTs on staff, all of those premiums add up too. Many times- at least in my area- they also need to pay for extra security. People show up with guns, grudges, and bad opiate addictions. Everyone’s stressed, no one in the lobby wants to be there, you don’t get even the lift of a new puppy visit to break up the sad stuff. Do you know why I don’t do ER any more? You couldn’t pay me enough. It’s backbreaking, heartbreaking work and I am so grateful to my colleagues who take that task on. They’re the reason your regular vet shows up at work smiling at 8 am, because they got a full night’s sleep and decent coffee.
2. Your Vet Can’t Afford Not to Charge You
I hear a lot of people talk about the good old days when their vet would ‘give them a break’, knock some money off the bill. You understand where that money came from, right? From them. From their own take home, because the electric bills didn’t give them a break, payroll didn’t give them a break, the grocery store didn’t give them a break. No one expects anyone to give them a break anymore, except for veterinarians, because as a profession we’ve let it go on way past the point of viability.
Here’s the difference between now and then: today’s vet is carrying an average debt load well over six figures. The debt to income ratio is higher than it’s ever been. Despite what you may think, most vets are terrible businesspeople who give away way more than they should; maybe if we ran things better more of us would be the wealthy Scrooge McDucks so many people think we are. We just can’t afford to gift out discretionary income in the form of “breaks” any more, because we don’t have discretionary income to give. I know some vets who still give too much away: out of a sense of obligation, usually, this idea that “this is just what vets do”. They are generally unhappy. That life is unsustainable.
3. I Can Care and Still Want to Earn a Paycheck
Unless you, personally, donate 100% of your paycheck to animal angel funds you aren’t allowed to use the “if you cared you’d do this for free” line. It’s mean, and untrue. Ever try that on a plumber? They’d laugh, and leave you standing ankle deep in sewage.
4. This is What We Asked For
If you believe pets are family members, and deserve to be treated as such with high end food and Paul Mitchell shampoo and highly trained oncologists, you also have to be ok with the fact that these things cost a lot. It’s either worth it to you, or not.
Back in the good old days, the James Herriot days that everyone with a steep bill in their hand starts to wax poetic about, they barely had antibiotics. Seriously- penicillin, not widely in use till the 1940s. Of course vet care was cheaper back then: it was morphine, alcohol, and lead. It really wasn’t a great time to be a pet, to be honest.
5. So Whose Fault Is This?
No one’s. It’s not a fault thing, it’s a reality thing. People want something that is expensive to not be so expensive.
When I say I am sympathetic to the problem of unaffordable care, I mean it. In ER I spent at least 30% of any given day trying to help people come up with a realistic solution: calling angel funds, working up plans B and C, crying with them when it sucked. I guarantee you, turning someone away or doing economic euthanasia for something like a dystocia or a badly broken limb or septic abdomen hurts like hell. No one wants that and we usually do everything in our power to avoid that, but we aren’t Superman. Our powers are finite, and people’s antagonism is the Kryptonite that sends so many of us off the proverbial and sadly sometimes literal cliff.
Bottom line: People want their pets to get better without going bankrupt. ER vets want to help people’s pets get better without going bankrupt. Really, we’re all on the same page here.
6. How Do We Fix This?
I know I sound like a broken record, but nothing has changed. It has to be a team effort, because affordable care is too big an issue for one person or one clinic to solve. The costs aren’t going away, so we need to figure out how to ease the burden of a sudden huge bill. Here’s how it works:
Our role as veterinarians is to provide care and offer you options, without being the ones to personally subsidize them. I think as a profession there’s still lots we can do, from encouraging more people to utilize pet insurance to working with outside financing companies to offer payment plans without taking on the burden ourselves. There are some great options out there and we should continue to explore how they can help.
Your role as an owner is to be as prepared as you can and understand that there is no safety net for pets. You are the safety net. Get insurance, set aside a savings account, get a Care Credit card. Donate to angel funds when you can. Know your limits; we’ll do our best to give you options, but you have to meet us halfway.
We’re in the middle of three major, major disasters in this country right now and I’ve seen nothing but grace and kindness from the animal lovers and veterinary community risking their lives to save helpless pets. Everyone’s come together. I know it’s possible for us to be there for each other. We can do this.
Debbie Boone, CVPM says
Well stated. I just spent over $700 on my healthy older dog this week…and it was worth every penny. I do not expect my vet to subsidize my pets care…I signed up to care for him and I do. Nor do I have multiple animals because I know I can’t afford to give through preventive care to a menagerie. I OWN my choice to provide for my dog, to educate myself about good care and to be responsible to keep him safe from harm. ER vets are a special breed and I am grateful for them.
Dr. V says
Thank you Debbie! It’s so hard- we’re down to one dog and one cat right now. I wish I could have tons more, but this is what is right for us and them.
Andy Mathis says
it also has to do with how the general public quit supporting their local veterinary hospital. Back in the day, the veterinary hospital could charge $15 for an office visit. A little profit on vaccines, a little profit on medications, a little profit on spays and neuters, and a little profit on sick patient care- all added up to enough profit for the hospital to cover their overhead. Nowadays, the profit all goes to the spay neuter clinic, the vaccine clinic, and the online pharmacies, leaving the hospital with no choice but to raise prices for sick patient care.
Agree, owners know what they pay – not what they pay for. Round the corner from any quality vet clinic will be a cheap vax clinic charging $20 less, and providing $40 less value, telling owners that they’re not in it for the money, they just care more etc.
Please don’t call it ‘vet care’!! I am a ‘vet’, and you are not taking care of me (or a veteran), it is more properly called ‘pet care’. Perhaps if we call it what it really is we will stop the blame game.
Dr. V says
Point taken, though I would also say most people understand “vet” to be shorthand for “veterinary”. I figure if you say you work at a vet clinic people understand that means you are taking care of animals, not other veterinarians or veterans. 🙂
I am also a vet (veterinarian) and see no issue with the term “vet care”, i.e. veterinary care in reference to health/medical aspects of pets. “Pet care” sounds too broad to me, and I would interpret it to include more than veterinary care, as in housing, feeding, grooming, boarding, exercise, etc.
Very good article, Dr V
Dr. V says
Thank you Dr. Allison!
Turnera Croom, DVM says
Well what if you’re a Vet Vet like myself? Army Veterinary Corps. Hoooah! 😁 Excellent article, Dr. V!
Dr Croom, founder of Vets In 3D.
Oh come on, give me a break – “vet” is shorthand for veterinarian as well as veteran, and veterinarians have just as much right to use the term. “Vet care” is entirely appropriate.
Dave Gill says
Recovering today from several late night ER shifts. I’ve been doing ER 30+ years now. Had a woman yesterday accuse me of “pet extortion” when I presented her with a $4000 estimate for her dogs care. I’m really tired of this crap. I try to reason with people, as so well stated above, but they don’t often get it. But its part of the job, always has been.
Most recent discussion in the (now) corporate practice I work in is how to manage “surrenders” where people cannot afford care, but rather than euthanize the pet, you offer to treat the pet to save its life, but you take ownership responsibility and adopted it out or keep it. (I acquired an IMHA dog myself this way a year ago. 4 transfusions and $3000+ dollars the dog is fine). Corporate won’t let us even consider this anymore.
The only issue I have with this is the insistence of most practices in doing a wellness exam before doing anything. So, it costs me $75 to walk in the door, even if I just want a rattlesnake vaccine for my dog. Which is another $45. I get that if you don;t run the bloodwork, you might miss something. FIne, I’ll sign the waiver that says I understand I turned you down. Your liability insurance costs nothing anyway, so if someone sues you over a $1000 dog, write a check. (My liability insurance is heaps higher than yours. I would kill for your premiums.) So, you lose the $50 I would pay you to walk in and get the shot, over and over and over, because you are charging me $75 to walk in the door. Most of us with ranch dogs and barn cats look for vets that understand that we have working animals, not substitutes for children, and spend accordingly. So we don’t show up at your door unless our animals are in real trouble, or they just need the basic shots.
Jen L says
Actually, we legally have to have a doctor-client relationship with you and your pet in order to provide services. So we spend our time and training performing a physical exam in order to establish that relationship. Why should we work without getting paid? Or break the law to make $15? That’s right – of the $75 you pay…your average vet makes about 20-22% of that. The rest goes to the regular overhead of running a business. The liability issue is not just “getting sued” for $1000. People can also come after our licenses, our livelihood. So if you really think that I am examining your pet for a mere $15 in my pocket – plus the grief I get over wanting to make that $15 – for any reason other than it is in your pet’s best interest and a desire not to break the law and lose my license, it’s pretty hard to imagine what you think my motive might be.
You can buy basic shots, other than rabies which is legally required to be administered by a DVM, at your feed store. And, yes, your DVM is legally required to have a patient/doctor relationship before dispensing any drugs that require a prescription.
Interestingly the docs out there actually working in the livestock sector have the same basic overhead costs, plus the cost of running vehicles and vet packs on the back, but are constrained by livestock production costs, and ROI for livestock producers. Because of this they often charge less than the small animal practitioners.
So Alifarr, I take it that you are performing vet care on your pet without a license? Are you one of these guys who examines, diagnoses and establishes a treatment plan for your pet, then just goes to the vet to get the meds? Then you complain because the vet insists on doing his job and doing the exam and diagnosis before implementing a treatment plan. And then you complain about how much the vet charges. After all, you did the exam and diagnosis free on the internet. Don’t laugh, people docs see this kind of jerk all the time and I’m sure vets do too.
Wow, what an emotional issue for folks.
I feel like veterinary care of all kinds is a tremendous bargain. When an emergency vet saved my dog’s life when she has an obstruction, the bill was less than $4,000. A human friend of mine went to the emergency room for a work up after suffering possible stroke symptoms and got a $30,000 bill with no diagnosis or treatment (except that he didn’t have a stroke).
People who are truly very poor have a serious issue with not being able to afford vet care. But many of the people who complain the loudest about vet bills seem to be fine with paying thousands of dollars a year to the cable company or for other non-necessities..
Personally, I’d rather spend my limited income on keeping my dog healthy even if that means not having a car, cable, or a smart phone. And I’m happy to see the vets I rely on making a decent living and being able to pay their staff a living wage.
For all but the very poorest families, it’s about what you value in life.
Dr. V says
Thank you so much Pamela! I think my son’s broken pinky finger- treated with a small cast- wound up being close to 5K and we considered that a bargain all things considered 😉
OTOH I am looking at $3k for an FHO on a young healthy dog with a subluxated hip. That should be a 30 minute surgery. So $6k/hour. My husband, a food animal vet for 30+ years is outraged at this cost. He knows quite well the cost of keeping a business going and also knows what that surgery entails. There needs to be a middle ground. And perhaps the starting point should be at the level of the cost of education. If you come out of school with $200k in debt and are making $15 on a $75 office call, there is something seriously out of balance.
Using your example of $6K an hour. And the fact you have a vet husband I would assume you know that you don’t bring your animal in anaesthetised and ready for surgery and then take him back home 30min later once it’s been closed up?
Also even with very experienced vets it can and does take longer than 30 minutes!
And yes I agree the cost of vet school seems to be ridiculous compared to wages (at least in the states, it’s not quite as bad here).
Wow, an FHO for 3k is a seriously good deal. It’s great that your husband is a food vet. But they are quite different businesses. I’d thank your vet for an expensive procedure at a great cost.
This article was soooo well written. I am a small animal practitioner of 34 years, and I would say amen to your comments! Yeas care costs more, but there are so many more expectations placed on the expectation of level of diagnostics and therapeutics than there was 34 years ago. And as one respondent rightly pointed out, when people look for other avenues to “save costs on care”, they send money outside of their community that does not support the efforts of the local practitioner to provide “affordable care”. If I can’t make a little money spread over a lot of transactions, then I have to boost my fees on services to cover the costs, and believe me I am not getting rich! I can tell your I am glad I am on this side of my career and looking soon to retirement and not a recent graduate trying to find a way to navigate the heavy debt loads most now have after graduation and trying to practice good quality medicine while juggling the same financial pressures the rest of society also has to deal with.
Have you heard of this company? I was looking into this and found them. I don’t know anything more than they exist. If they’re good, they should probably do more promotion.
Did you get any replies? Is this a ?good or bad plan
We just started offering it at our ER clinic. It seems to be a good plan.
Tammy Richardson says
Informative article, thanks. I’m curious, how much do you think free higher education would change the dynamic?
Dr. V says
I’m not sure it would. The issue of cost of care is not related to the debt of the veterinarians; all that changes is the average associate’s ability to personally pitch in help with the bill.
Chris Marsh says
I’m concerned that a higher usage of pet insurance would actually increase the price of veterinary care (as it changes the elasticity of demand for customers). More financing options don’t change the actual price of the care although they do change the timeframe for payment.
If the primary factors contributing to the cost of emergency veterinary care are high overhead and high labor costs what (if anything) can be done to reduce these costs?
I’m wondering what the vet med professionals on here think about the following. As the article states the debt to income ratio for new veterinary school graduates is very high. Would reducing the cost of training for a veterinarian reduce the labor cost for emergency medicine? First idea: can we create another level of veterinary professional synonymous to a PA in human medicine who’s labor doesn’t cost as much? (And a legal framework that allows them to provide patient care). If you have a trained DVM in the building to see the more complex cases and a PA type to treat the less complicated ones does that reduce costs at all (at least for the less complicated cases)? Second idea: it appears to me that demand for slots in veterinary school far outstrips the supply of them available, this allows veterinary schools to charge very large sums of money for training. Furthermore it also appears to me that most of the veterinary schools really train students who want to go into speciality medicine and that perhaps much of the training isn’t necessary for someone who wants to practice as a DVM. Could veterinary schools create a program that is shorter and thus less expensive for those who want to do general medicine and not speciality medicine? Could then these Drs. go into the world with less debt load?
Note that them just having less debt load doesn’t change the supply/demand part of the labor equation thus they wouldn’t be cheaper. The supply of Drs. would have to go up to reduce the price of the labor, the answer to this is more veterinary schools or more slots in the existing schools.
So bottom line question for the vet med professionals here, do you see a way to reduce the time and cost of training for caregivers (whether Drs or others) and increase the supply of these folks so that we can reduce their labor cost?
Also this shouldn’t be taken as a slam against veterinary professionals (Drs or otherwise) that they are overpaid or shouldn’t be paid as much, etc. I work in a vet clinic part time and am hoping to attend veterinary school in the near future.
David Gill says
The biggest expense I’d not paying the Docs, but paying the staff who actually do the bulk of the work. And staff are paid poorly enough already. Benefits are few and meager. The fact is that if the people who actually did the work were paid fairly and had adequate benefits, veterinary costs would increase.
And Equipment and overhead are huge expenses as well. Every veterinary hospital has its own laboratory and radiology unit. Physicians send their patients to the lab and to the Radiology office for those services. Saving themselves that investment. Vets offer immediate results, physicians have a significant delay in reporting results. Another value added service that pet owners may take for granted.
There is a lower level veterinary training – an RVT or registered veterinary technician. Considering the time, training, and scope of duties of this position, RVTs already barely make a living wage. Staff at all levels of the veterinary profession are already underpaid for our work, making a small fraction of what our counterparts in human medicine make, so I don’t see much room for that to decrease. Trying to decrease the cost of care by increasing the supply of vets would just drive people out of the profession, because it would not be possible to keep a business going.
The reason that education costs are so high is not because of demand, but because the costs of running a vet school are tremendous. Most of these are non-profit universities, so they are not driven so much by supply/demand. The demand for vet schools is higher than human medical schools, but the fees are generally comparable or slightly lower. Human medical schools are just as expensive – it is just less of an issue because starting salaries are much higher. So there isn’t much room to decrease those costs. Really costs need to be higher than they are to support vets and staff appropriately, but are depressed by people’s low perception of the value of the work we do. This has created a major problem for new vets – who struggle to pay their bills.
Trust me, if there was a simple way to decrease staff or training costs, it would have been done. I think that widespread use of pet insurance would probably increase the cost of care a bit – but I don’t think that is a bad thing. Pets still get care and vets and staff make a better living. The costs of providing care go up, just like the costs of everything else. We should be able to charge appropriately for what we do without fear of reprisal. In some parts of Europe, pet insurance in required for licensing a pet, and coverage is above 90%. Maybe we should move toward this model? Not a perfect solution, but there is no way we can make vet care cheaper without hurting the people who provide it. So, maybe we should try, instead, to implement ways to help people afford the care their pets need. Insurance, savings, payment plans, etc.
Chris, there are a few problems with your proposals.
1) The 2016 median salary for a Physician Assistant was $101,000, more than 10K higher that the median for veterinarians ($90,000). Even $90,000 might sound like a lot, but disregarding the debt (because it’s really too heinous to think about), that’s pretty crappy compensation when you consider the years of training that go into it and the stress, lifestyle, and dangers (regular exposure to radiation, carcinogens, patients trying to kill you) that comes with it. Honestly, I’m amazed so many of us agree to do this work for that pay. I have trouble imagining people lining up to be urgent care vets for, say, 50-60K when they could just as easily teach high school and make the same while getting summers off and not having to deal with feces. At that income level, if you want what used to be standard middle-class things (like owning a home, a car, occasional travel, squirreling some money away for your kids’ college) you need to have a working spouse, probably one who makes more than you.
2) If someone did manage to undercut current veterinary prices by bringing in cheaper labor, the first thing that would happen is an acceleration of the trend we’re already seeing of small 1- and 2-doctor practices (the mom and pop clinics) going out of business. When this happens, either the community loses access to these clinics completely, or they end up being bought out by large corporate chain-practices (most of which are now owned by Mars, the candy company). More corporate oversight means less flexibility for doctors in how they practice and how they manage risk. That translates to fewer opportunities to help the truly cash-strapped clients.
3) The vet schools that we have are already straining at the seams. Financial support from the states has taken a nosedive. Just this year, the governor of Pennsylvania proposed cutting *all* state funds for PA’s one vet school (although funding was eventually restored). To keep tuition from skyrocketing even more than it already had, every school that had space for extra students added extra seats, until you ended up with lecture halls that practically violated fire code and labs that had to be scheduled in shifts because you couldn’t fit all the students in the facility. Adding more seats is really not feasible. The new vet schools that are opening are private schools receiving no state funding, so graduates finish with even higher debt.
4) Meanwhile, due partly to the need to train ever-more interns and residents, partly to humane concerns over the use of laboratory animals in teaching, partly to the need for more lecture time to reflect our rapidly expanding understanding of medicine, and partly to plummeting case loads at teaching hospitals, veterinarians are graduating with less practical experience than ever before. I graduated in 2015 with two spays and one neuter under my belt, having never lanced an abscess or stitched a wound. There’s no easy way to shorten the program and still produce graduates who are marginally competent.
5) Vets practicing “general medicine” need a *much* broader knowledge base than those practicing specialty medicine. It’s not a good fit for a paraprofessional. Yes, a theoretical veterinary physician assistant could do what PAs do and refer every case that’s above their skill level, but that doubles the cost for people with sick animals. Now, they’re paying for the vet *and* the PA. It’s usually not the cost of treating UTIs, cat abscesses, and other primary care things that causes heartache; it’s the people who show up with a very sick pet and need hospitalization.
6) Because most of us are terrible business people who don’t hike prices in response to demand, there’s not much room to go down on veterinary prices. It costs what it costs, and what we spend gets sunk directly into what it costs *us* to provide those services – to pay the rent or mortgage, to hire staff, to buy and maintain supplies and equipment and licenses. As others have pointed out, the cost of labor for the actual veterinarian is bargain-basement, and many of us invest our paychecks back into other people’s pets anyway.
When you’re planning to apply, it’s very common and tempting to think “schools should just increase the number of students and decrease the cost.” Trust me, I remember. Once you actually get here, though, you realize that it’s a lot more complicated than that.
George Baumgardner says
My vet and I have an agreement where I set up my bank account to have $10 (or more) sent to him every time I get paid. He keeps it on account and when I need care for my furbabies they just deduct the amount owned and the balance is carried until the next visit. Of course, I set a limit to keep on account there. When that limit is reached I just quit sending payments until a vet’s office visit is needed and the cost is deducted from my account, at which time I start once again sending payments until my account is back up to where I like to keep it. It came in very handy several years ago when one of my furbabies unfortunately needed an enucleation and I had enough money on account to pay for it. It is a win win situation for both of us and I would much rather have money on account with my vet than getting a measly interest paid by the bank who makes a lot more off of my money in their bank.
I LOVE THIS IDEA! I wish more Veterinarins would do this!
A savings account would work the same way.
True. Putting the responsibility where it belongs.
Unfortunately, that has several problems, which I’m guessing his local vet has been luck enough to avoid. First and foremost, anything involving payment plans, accounts like this, and other things have been shown to be bad investments for vets time and time again, with people not paying. Additionally, that entire thing can actually get you into a lot of trouble, because it crosses into a grey area where you come under some regulation as a lending institution, and both the IRS and other federal and state agencies can lay the hammer down if they so choose.
Petly Health Plans is an option that many practices provide. It allows the clinic to offer wellness plans to pet owners that extends the cost of visits and other services over 12 months. It helps the pet owner get the best care for their pet and the practice can count on payment. There is also reporting that addresses any tax concerns.
Chris, I suspect you have some confusion about where the cost of care is coming from: supply/demand of spaces in vet colleges that sets high tuition and causes heavy debt load for new grads is not a driver for for fees- newer grads are simply more broke because they have higher bills to pay. In addition, the vast majority of veterinary graduates do not persue specialty practice, although in recent years specialists are less of a rarity.
You are asking for ideas to cut back on time in training for DVMs? Which vital theory or practice should they not learn before they have to wing it on a patient???? Besides that, after spending that many years in training and working the hours in the type of job they do, why should they work on the cheap? Or their support staff? Or the truck drivers that deliver medical supplies, oxygen tanks, food, drugs? Perhaps the electrical company should comp the hospital just so that we don’t have to take responsibility for our pets (which are a luxury, not a necessity)?…. I’m thinking it’s time to stop telling veterinarians that they need to be the ones paying for OUR pets.
I just wanted to say that this article was beautifully written. My local Pet Emergency Service s constantly getting terrible reviews about how horrible, money grubbing people they are, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. I worked as a receptionist there for a year and I tried so hard to find alternate methods of payment and the Doctors tried different treatment plans to try and work within people budgets. We even had a Good Samaritan program for people to donate to and we were able to take in animals that people would drop off and not claim ownership over. This service is such a valuable one to have also because it is the only ER service within a 90 mile radius. I just wish that the people of my community would see that what they are doing is so amazing and takes so much strength and compassion, love, and care for animals and that those wonderful medical professionals deserve to be compensated for what they do.
Bonnie Mayhew says
I have a financial commitment for life with a diabetic dog. However, I took out pet insurance just in time. One thing my Veterinarian does that I’ve found none others do now a days, he has a after hours pager number for emergencies for his regular patients. This helps cut down on high cost. This has increased his business because everyone in the waiting room says they feel no one cares, that they called and got a number for a Emergency Vet. I Love my Veterinarian and so does my Dog.
In the UK p.king every one who owns a pet has pet insurance, breeders with many animals can’t afford the premiums. They think the recent hike in premiums is due to insurance companies being greedy. The truth is our government has decided to put a tax on insurance premiums people pay. If you compare the taxes we pay for our automobiles it is a drop in the ocean, as we pay value added tax on vehicle parts, labour to fix the auto, fuel tax, road tax, premium tax for auto insurance which is five taxes on the automobile before we even get in to go anywhere!
I am an ER DVM and I can’t thank you enough for this post. The financial side is one of the biggest struggles, and when other veterinarians tear us down and disparage us it makes it infinitely worse.
The truth is when a client complains “I went to ER and because I couldn’t afford x thousands of dollars up front they did nothing for me!” that is often not the whole truth. I don’t mean it is never true, but I know in my ER we *always* try to work with the client and give other options. Sometimes there are not a lot of options – there may be no humane conservative approach to a problem – but we always try, and we do discuss financing options. However, some pet owners want nothing but the absolute best for their pet and will not accept compromise so in their mind they create the all or nothing scenario. I say “We are recommending x, but if that is not possible we can try y or even z” and they refuse everything and tell the tale “It was either pay for x now or nothing!” unfairly…
Anyway. I have been fortunate to have many excellent clients – clients who have insurance, clients who considered insurance and didn’t get it and voice their regrets and don’t blame me for their lack of planning, and clients who have to go the economic euthanasia route but are still grateful and show appreciation to me and my staff. These help us shore up against the social media backlash generated by the difficult clients. But support from our colleagues in articles like this is also invaluable. <3
Marilyn B says
Pet insurance is not expensive and I am so thankful to pay that small annual premium to know we won’t have to euthanize another cat. People think it’s expensive and don’t even check to see what’s available.
The other reason pet care has increased is VCA is buying up all the small veterinary clinics. I will Drive out of my way to avoid using a VCA practice. It’s corporate and all about the money……not the animals!!
I have worked over the past 20 years for two organizations that provide financial assistance for veterinary care for the pets of low-income older adults and individuals with disabilities. Many of these clients need to get their pets to an emergency vet. Having worked with vet practices in two different states, I support the charges of most of them. As I say to clients who grumble about costs, “They need to pay their staff a living wage.” My advice to all clients is to NOT buy pet insurance, but to buy a pretty envelope and put their pet’s name on it and put at least $1 a week in that envelope. And if they ask about pet insurance, I tell them to put the cost of monthly premium into the envelope or a savings account. Pet insurance exists to make money for the company, and only a few clients ever realize the benefits in excess of what they’ve paid in. That’s my personal opinion; I have not researched it, but Consumer Reports has, and they recommend against pet insurance, as well.
I think the main difference is that there are more options for paying for human medical care than there is to pay for vet care. I know very few vets who allow any kind of payment plan. The insurance plans for pets suck! And there are many fewer options to go to so there is very little incentive for lowering rates where they can be lowered. I understand wanting to make a profit. But something has to give.
So I have similar concerns as some mentioned above. If I bring my dog for a simple procedure nothing can be done without a barrage of tests (blood work, EKG, chest x Ray etc). Last year I brought my 11 year old dog to have a growth removed from her leg. Normally I would have left it alone but she was licking it constantly and I could see it was annoying her. They wouldn’t touch it without – you guessed it – BW, needle biopsy and pathology. This on top of the office visit (not to mention the push for shots not needed, heart worm and the latest flea and tick stuff. Blah blah blah. A $1000 later I was told all was ok to proceed with removing the growth (size of a dime from her paw). Cost of surgery $2000 plus now we also needed an EKG, more extensive BW, chest x Ray and of course there was a separate Anesthisa bill. Seriously ???? I am nurse for 25 years and have never spent this much on my own care. Guess what? We kept the little growth and even named it. I love my dog but you guys are making care almost impossible.
As people, we can’t have any type of surgery without having bloodwork ran. BW tells us how your pets kidneys are functioning and a host of other issues that may be hidden until your pet is put under anesthesia. Running that bloodwork may save your pet’s life. We recently had a mastiff come in for surgery to remove a small growth. His kidney values were so horrible, had we not ran bloodwork, he would have crashed during surgery.
So you think it is fair to ask your veterinarian to finance your pet’s medical expenses out of their own bank account, when you don’t have the self-control or forethought to create a savings account for them yourself? That is a really unfair position. You wouldn’t go into a grocery store and after checking out ask them if you could make payments for the next 3 weeks since that’s how long it was going to take you to eat the food.
I think another part of the problem is most Americans have no idea what their personal health care actually costs. If you ask them, they will just quote their co-pay fees – but since their premiums are deducted from their paycheck before they see their take-home pay, they’ve never actually done the math to understand what their ‘$20 doctor visit’ really cost them. Many of them also don’t understand that tax dollars and other Federal money supports human emergency rooms – and that no similar funding is available in veterinary medicine. I don’t think it’s fair to ask your local veterinary clinic to subsidize or fund or take payments for your pets care.
I assume most of you wouldn’t ask the grocery store for a payment plan for your groceries. Or your hairdresser for payment plan for your haircut and color. Or a restaurant for a payment plan after you finish your meal. And these are not medical professionals with advanced degrees. And yet they are treated with more respect.
Pet ownership is a privilege, not a right. When you take that animal into your life, you have an obligation to provide for them, whatever their needs are, for the rest of their life. Have a plan. Have a back-up plan. And have somebody you can call for help when you need it. It is not your veterinarian’s responsibility to provide for your lack of financial planning.
Like any medical practice, you have good doctors and you have shysters. Yesterday, for example, my vet who is wonderful and compassionate was closed, so I called another vet for the problem we were having with a 2-week old puppy. I was told that they wanted me to bring in the mother and all 5 babies and charge me an office visit for all 6 dogs, just to diagnosis the eye problem of 1 puppy. This same vet wanted to charge me a $60 exam fee to euthanize my 13 yr old dog who had a stroke and was barely breathing to make sure I wasn’t trying to put down a viable animal!
Lori Watson says
Care Credit is awesome. Our dachshund had to have gall bladder surgery for nearly $3,000. Care Credit allowed us to pay it off over a year w/o interest. The surgery was done at the ER/Specialty vet hospital. We were glad that facility was there when we needed it and the surgeon was awesome.