A Vet Shares Her Thoughts About What Is Wrong With How We Pay for Pet Health Care

Cat owner at vet's front desk
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Some pet owners think veterinarians care for more about money than animals, but if that was the case, why would vets accept accept well under half the income our human-doc counterparts?

I'm a veterinarian first and foremost, but along life's many devious paths, I also eked out a degree that says I know something about business. Since I'm often asked to render my opinion on the subject, I've been thinking about the many imperfections inherent to paying for pet care.

Though it’s not all doom and gloom, there are four things I find troubling about our current payment system.

1. There’s a gap between the care owners want and what may be affordable. A race is underway in veterinary medicine. It’s between owner demand for state-of-the-art services and veterinary supply of new advances to meet the need. Trouble is, there’s a huge gap between what owners know is available and what most can afford.

For example, most pet owners know that canine lymphoma is a treatable cancer. Many, however, aren’t prepared to shoulder hundreds (or thousands!) of dollars a month for six months or more of treatment. It’s hard to know your vet can do something for your pet when it's beyond your reach. Many owners never even considered that vet care could be as pricey as such treatments are.

 2. People aren’t used to paying for health care up front. “Payment is expected when services are rendered” is an odd concept for many of us steeped in the American health care industry’s third-party payment system.

Veterinarians often hear: “Why so picky about getting paid up front? My doctor sends me a bill. Why can’t you?”

This question is particularly problematic when owners are paying emergency hospitals and specialty facilities for big-ticket items like board-certified-level surgery. Steep pricing — however fair — can bring out the worst feelings in stressed-out pet owners, especially when they’re coupled with strict payment policies that are ultimately — if justifiably — designed to protect animal hospitals more than they are pet owners. After all, we have to pay our rent, electricity and drug bills immediately, too.

In the end, many pet owners have a hard time squaring high prices and strict payment policies with the people they’ve always believed had their pets’ best interests in mind. Which explains why “They’re all about the money. They don’t care about pets” is a refrain that resonates with many pet owners and frustrates well-intentioned veterinarians.

If we really cared about money more than animals, why would we accept well under half the income our human-doc counterparts earn for the same amounts of rigorous schooling and crushing debt?

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