Archive for the ‘Pet Health Insurance & Other Financial Concerns’ Category

The Elephant in the Middle of the Exam Room

August 1, 2011

My dual career as an author and a practicing veterinarian provides me with a unique vantage point. Not only am I privy to the issues my veterinary colleagues are stewing about, I also receive a plethora of emails from my readers candidly venting about their experiences as consumers of veterinary medicine.  It’s rare that those on both sides of the exam room table are growling about the same issue, but these days this is certainly the case.

See if you can identify the elephant in the exam room based on the following data that has appeared in current veterinary news feeds along with quotes from recent correspondences with my readers:

– The number of pet visits to veterinary hospitals is dramatically decreasing (DVM Newsmagazine, June 2011), and a special session was held at this year’s conference of the American Veterinary Medical Association to explore ways to increase public awareness about the importance of annual checkups for pets.

– “In my opinion, most of the decline in veterinary visits is primarily due to the bad economy. If you are barely scraping by, you are certainly not going to the vet for a very pricey annual exam, especially if your pet seems fine.”

– While pet spending is up, the market isn’t growing fast enough to support the number of new veterinarians entering the veterinary profession. (DVM Newsmagazine, June 2011) Veterinarian supply is growing faster than pet owner demand. (The Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study 2011)

– “Sadly there are some veterinarians who see hospitalization fees as a revenue stream and do not inform clients that no one will be supervising the pet they recommend be hospitalized. While one tends to like to think of their vet as a kind, caring person and many are, some are more business than heart.”

– Eighty-nine percent of current veterinary school graduates have student debt.  The average student loan debt of students graduating in 2010 from veterinary school was $133,873 (15% have debt in excess of $200,000) and the average starting salary was $48,674. (Veterinary Information Network News Service, January 4, 2011)

– “My question is why most vets feel the need to worry about money instead of worrying about taking care of the pets.”

– Although the number of households in the United States with cats is increasing, the number of feline visits to veterinary hospitals is decreasing. (Banfield Pet Hospital® State of Pet Health 2011 Report)

– “I’d love to take each of my cats in for dental cleaning on a regular basis and I have two cats that desperately need attention now. For me, it’s a matter of costs. Vets continue to increase their charges and there’s no break for multiple pets. Dental disease is a precursor for renal failure in cats and yet it’s so expensive for cleaning – yet alone extracting any teeth. Then blood work is usually advisable to be on the safe side. It’s a small fortune when you leave the vet’s office for ONE pet. Next you’ve got the cost associated with monthly flea control. You have to draw the line somewhere and hope for the best.”

– Fifty-four percent of cat owners and 47% of dog owners report that they would take their pet to the veterinary hospital more often if each visit were less expensive. (The Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study 2011)

– “I am not saying veterinarians can’t charge a reasonable fee for their services, but most people can’t afford $300+ bills every time they step into a clinic, per pet, per year, and that is for the healthy ones who are coming in for regular yearly checkups and not for other medical concerns that require medications, further diagnostics, overnight stays, dental cleaning, blood work etc.”

– Fifty three percent of clients believe that veterinary clinic costs are usually much higher than expected. (The Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study 2011)

– “I am sick and tired of the way veterinarians financially take advantage of people who are emotionally upset about their pets.”

– Twenty-four percent of pet owners believe that routine checkups are unnecessary and 36% believe that vaccinations are the main reason to take their overtly healthy pet in for an office visit. (The Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study 2011)

– “We have a lot of price gouging going on here at local vets. A dental cleaning has gone from $75 to $300 and up at many places. A lot of the clinics are buying high tech equipment and passing overhead costs on us so they really shouldn’t complain when clients come for less visits.”

Have you identified the common thread amongst these comments and statistics?  No doubt in my mind that the “gripe du jour” is the “M word.”  Perhaps it is more accurate to say that the real issue is too little money.

This blog is not intended to create or perpetuate harsh judgments. Please hear me when I say that I know that not every veterinarian or every person who brings their pet to see the vet is thinking primarily about money.  Clearly, however, money matters are on the minds of many, in fact more so than I’ve witnessed throughout my thirty year career.   Never before have I observed colleagues declare bankruptcy.  Never before have I spent so much time in the exam room trying to help folks figure out how to do more with less.

My goal in presenting this information is to create some understanding about what’s going on in the minds of individuals on both sides of the exam room table.  Blame this money mess state of mind on the diseased economy, veterinary competition, or the expense of going to veterinary school.  Whatever the causes, there is an awful lot of emotion tangled up in the financial aspects of providing and receiving veterinary health care these days.

What are your thoughts? Let’s talk about it and in doing so we will be able to kick that big ole’ elephant out of the middle of the exam room!

Best wishes for good health,

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of  Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

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The Cost of Caring

June 20, 2011

The news would have us believe that the recession is over and unemployment is declining, but I’ve got to tell you, I’ve not yet seen even a glimmer of this in my professional life.  The majority of my clients remain hard pressed to pay for the diagnostic testing and care that would be ideal for their sick pets in spite of the fact that we lowered many of the fees at my hospital approximately one year ago.  Fortunately, for most of my patients, I can offer multiple medical options rather than just one.  For example, many folks these days choose the less expensive route of empirical therapy (providing treatment without certainty of what the underlying medical issue is) rather than performing diagnostic testing.  Within the limitations dictated by cost constraints, I try to do what’s best for my patient while also trying to assuage the guilt that most clients in this situation experience.  They love their pets dearly, but face the reality of having to settle for something that would not normally be their first choice.

When appropriate, I provide my client with a list of organizations that provide financial assistance for veterinary care costs.  Trust me, these wonderful organizations have been deluged by requests over the last few years.  Yet they still manage to pull through for some of my clients.  Many provide financial help for any type of veterinary care while others set specific criteria.  For example, they might provide assistance only for pets with cancer or only for service dogs.  None of them provide urgent funding- invariably there is an application process.  If you are interested in having a look at these wonderful organizations, I invite you to visit my website. Click on “Resources” found in the red horizontal main menu and then scroll down to “Financial Assistance for Veterinary Care.”  A sure sign of the times is that this is the most frequently visited page on my website!

For those of you with  young healthy animals (devoid of any preexisting medical conditions) I encourage you to consider purchasing a pet health insurance policy.  For an annual premium cost of $300-$400 you will have the peace of mind of knowing that you will be reimbursed approximately 80% of future out of pocket veterinary expenses.  The key is in choosing your insurance provider wisely.  Some reimburse exactly as you would hope while others come up with all kinds of crazy loopholes.  Visit my website for a list of questions to ask insurance providers that will help you separate the good guys from the bad.  Click on “Resources” found in the red horizontal main menu and scroll down to “Pet Health Insurance.”  My book Speaking for Spot provides a comprehensive resource for learning all you need to know about pet health insurance.

Have these tough economic times influenced how you provide medical care for your pets?  If you feel comfortable sharing your story, I welcome hearing it.  If you know of any organizations (not already on my list) that provide assistance for veterinary care, please give me a shout out.  I would love to include them.

Best wishes for good health,

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of  Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

A Gift of Spot – Black Friday Special

November 26, 2010

Purchase Speaking for Spot through this link between November 26, 2010 and November 30, 2010 at a special “black Friday” price of $15.00.  Your book(s) will be personally signed and, if desired, receive complimentary holiday gift wrap.

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of  Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook 

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

Veterinary Care Links and Resources for You and Your Four-Legged Family Members

August 15, 2009

Some new educational links and resources have just been added to my website! I invite you to visit www.speakingforspot.com and take advantage of all that is there. In addition to the “Advocacy Aids” (free downloadable health care forms for your dog or cat), you will now find resources and links about all of the following:

1. Behavior & Training
2. Canine Disease Registries
3. Deciding Whether Veterinary Pet Insurance is Right for You
4. Disaster Preparedness
5. Disease-Specific Information
6. Paying for Veterinary Care
7. Pet Loss and Grief
8. Symptom-Specific Information
9. Veterinary References
10. Veterinary Specialty Organizations
11. What to Do When the Diagnosis is Cancer

All of this new material can be found on our “For Dog Lovers” pages. It has been designed to supplement the tools and information found in Speaking for Spot, and will be updated on a regular basis to keep you informed about advances in veterinary medicine. I hope you will find it useful and welcome your feedback. Please let me know what you think and advise me of any additions or changes that would make you happy.

Please feel free to link to our website and share the information with your animal-loving friends and relatives.

Now, here’s wishing you and your four-legged family members much good health!

Dr. Nancy Kay
Specialist, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine

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Getting More Bark for Your Buck

February 12, 2009

Today the human-animal bond is stronger than ever. Seemingly, the more tumultuous the world around us, the tighter we cling to our beloved pets. They soothe us with their predictability and unconditional love, and they consistently give in excess of what they receive. Imagine then, the heartache one feels when it’s necessary to cut back on a pet’s health care because of financial hardship.

Last week I worked with Joan and her ten-year-old Labrador, Rudy who still acts like a puppy. They are devoted to one another, and Joan has always done everything possible to care for her best buddy’s health. Rudy had been vomiting and not finishing his meals (keep in mind, most Labs would quit breathing before they quit eating). When I mentioned blood tests and X-rays, Joan began sobbing and expressed profound guilt and worry because she was unable to afford these diagnostics. Like so many others in this diseased economy Joan recently lost her job, depleted her financial reserves, and was in the midst of foreclosure. I gave Joan a big hug, told her how much I appreciated her candor, and reassured her that a diet change and medication to soothe Rudy’s stomach might be the solution. She will call me with an update next week.

If you are feeling a financial pinch (who isn’t these days), here are some things you can do to economize while still caring for your pet’s health.

-When talking with your vet, lay your financial cards on the table. Yes, this is difficult (talking “fleas” is one thing- having a candid conversation about your bank account is whole ‘nother ball game), but know that such discussion can open doors to options that make better financial sense. Rarely is there only one way to diagnose or treat a disease. You are entitled to an explanation of the risks and benefits of every single option, regardless of your financial status.

-Request a written cost estimate before services are provided. In no way does this reflect how much you love your pet; you are simply being fiscally responsible.

-Learn about all of your payment options.

-Consider investing in pet health insurance, especially if you are inclined to take the “do-everything-possible” approach.

-Don’t neglect the preventive care that could save you money in the long run. Administering heartworm preventive is less expensive for you (and safer for your dog) than treating heartworm infection.

What should one do if forced to contemplate euthanasia for a pet solely because of financial constraints? Before succumbing to such a drastic decision, I strongly encourage thoroughly investigating every other conceivable option. Consider coming up with a creative payment plan such as bartering services or goods, borrowing money from friends or relatives (borrowing from a bank might be a silly suggestion these days), contacting a dog rescue association, applying for a donation from a pet health assistance organization, or finding a new, financially capable guardian for your pet. Such exploration of options might just save a life and will do wonders for everyone’s peace of mind.

Please visit www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. SPEAKING FOR SPOT is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller.

Wishing you and your dog good health,

Dr. Nancy Kay
Specialist, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine