The cost of healthcare for pets and humans has risen dramatically over the past two decades. In pet healthcare, costs have increased by 60% since 1994. Over the same period, the increase in median household income has been less than 10%. So taking care of pets presents a significant challenge to the average American family. And America is a pet-loving country.

heart-beat-with-handsFurthermore, compared to other developed nations, we spend more money on healthcare (pet and human) and get worse results. We pay literally double the amount for prescription drugs than Canadians, the British and French, who are much more likely to have high-tech and expensive diagnostic and treatment procedures prescribed to them by their doctors and veterinarians. But why should this be?

Critics of subsidized healthcare (whether in the form of private-sector health insurance or government programs) blame the patient. Because of insurance, they claim, people are more likely to go to doctors for every little sniffle, and insist on procedures and medications they don’t really need. This drives up costs. While this argument may be true for human healthcare (it isn’t), it certainly does not explain why pet healthcare is so expensive. After all, only 1% of people have pet insurance.

The culprits for expensive pet healthcare

One real major cause is the pharmaceutical companies. The price of drugs has very little to do with what they cost to make. The American pharmaceutical industry is notorious for this kind of profiteering.

But there are also the very real and very expensive costs to run even a basic veterinary practice. For example:

  • Rent or mortgage, property tax and property insurance
  • Salaries for professional vet techs, vet nurses and receptionists
  • Supplies (of which there needs to be a constant supply), including drugs, needles, bandages, catheters, sterile wipes, sanitizers, etc.
  • Equipment costs, including running costs, maintenance, and upgrades
  • Admin costs, including paper, accounts, office supplies, etc.

And then of course, your veterinary has to draw some kind of salary. Considering that your veterinarian is all things to your pet: GP, surgeon, dentist, dermatologist, pharmacist, ENT, and radiologist, this salary is much lower than you think.

Veterinarians spend as much time earning their qualifications as family doctors, but no one questions their GP’s salary or costs. That’s not really fair, is it?

Service costs

pet healthcare cartoon

There is also the cost of ‘standard’ services. What constitutes standard varies from practice to practice. But many veterinarians now routinely recommend x-rays to determine cause and extent and complaints. It’s not a money-making tactic but a way to more accurately diagnose problems and tailor treatments.

The more advanced the equipment, the more expensive consultations will be. This is especially true in small to medium-sized practices with a limited patient base and where the equipment isn’t likely to be used very often. This why many small to medium-sized practices don’t have advanced equipment and refer difficult or serious cases to specialists.

However, many people prefer clinics that have advanced equipment because they don’t have to pay for an additional consult at specialist rates. They like to have more treatment options (to do the best for their pets), but they don’t realise that the more options available, the higher the cost.

Another problem

Most people don’t see how much their healthcare costs. It’s taken care of by Obamacare and the like. So they don’t necessarily know what treatment options cost. According to a great article from the AVMA that address concerns about veterinary costs, when it comes to treating the same type of cancer in a pet and a human, a 10-day hospital stay for the person can easily top $500,000. But your bill for your pet will only be around $5,000.

There is nothing like a little perspective.

Many veterinarians also have programs that help pet parents for whom care is financially out of reach. All you have to do is tell your veterinarian about your limitations and they will do their utmost to still provide the best care possible. Just be honest with your veterinarian, especially in an emergency situation. They are in the business of saving animals, not letting them die.

If you have any questions about finance, the AVMA is glad to help.

The solution

While opting for socialized medicine might work for humans, we are never going to have socialized medicine for pets (even in Britain and Canada, this doesn’t happen). But let’s look at why socialized medicine works.

When government is responsible for providing healthcare, it’s got enormous bargaining power. It has a pool of potential customers equal to the population of the country. If pharmaceutical companies charge too much, government just says ‘we’re not using your product’, so the price is forced down.

puppyHow does this help us?

An insurance company has enormous bargaining power and financial incentive to drop the price of pet healthcare, because a) lower prices mean lower costs to the customer so more people can afford insurance, and b) lower prices mean more profits for insurers. When a million-member pet insurance company says ‘you’re too expensive’, pharmaceutical companies listen.

One of the best things you can do for your pet and your wallet is buy pet insurance. Then the big guys do the negotiation for you, and even if you have to cover some of the costs, those will be reduced.

Prevention is better than cure

Those countries with socialized medicine also have other characteristics: their citizens are less prone to obesity and a host of other conditions. This is because governments have an incentive to educate their populace on the dangers of lifestyle diseases, and to provide exercise centers, tax unhealthy food, and encourage people to go for checkups regularly, etc.

When it comes to your pet, the government is you. Watch what they eat, exercise them regularly and, for their sake and yours, take them to the vet for regular checkups so that any potentially expensive conditions can be treated early and more cheaply.

You’re going to be with your pet for a long time, and you really don’t want to have to face the choice between expensive procedures and losing them. So plan wisely, keep them healthy, and give serious thought to getting some insurance so you have the big guys with the clever lawyers on your side for a change.