I have written multiple articles about the joys, trial and tribulations of being a pet owner. My latest such experience comes from a recent trip to the veterinarian and having the subsequent realization that each trip to the vet ends with the feeling that I have been seriously ripped off. Apparently spending hundreds of dollars for a vet visit lasting less than half an hour is not unheard of. While researching this topic I found that most pieces on the cost of high vet bills seemed more interested in explaining and excusing them rather than proposing solutions. I hope to do a little of both here.
My first reaction after giving the matter some consideration, was find it unsurprising that vet bills can be so expensive. Health care is expensive and way over priced in general, so there is hardly any reason why vets should be any different. Vets, after all are part of a government granted licensing monopoly. Though much of what they do can be done by people without their extensive educational background and government accreditation, there are restrictions on who can do it. I doubt for example that I could legally set up a shop x-raying dogs and cats for under ten dollars. It also should go without saying that many of us love and care deeply for our pets and are willing to break our budgets to see them get the best care, making us vulnerable to overcharging.
The problem however runs deeper than this and it parallels problems found in the high cost of medical care in general. Despite their astronomical (and let’s admit they are astronomical) charges most vets are not pocketing much of the cash. Vets are expected and usually required to have on hand numerous expensive and often patented drugs, as well as ultrasound equipment, anesthetic and anesthetic monitoring equipment, x-ray equipment (which is often species or purpose specific), blood-testing equipment, dental equipment comparable in price to that of a human dentist, and an extensive system for computerized record keeping. All of this adds up to significant overhead. x-rays and ultrasounds can cost anywhere between $30,000 and $90,000. This is before the costs of keeping all this equipment calibrated, clean and in good repair.
Furthermore, a typical vet and many veterinary technicians come into this field, these days with a heaping load of student debt. This too should be unsurprising as educational cost in this day in age are insane and this is even more so the case in fields where the state requires practitioners to have some form of government approved accreditation. A typical veterinary graduate enters the field with around $142,613, claims the Journal of American Veterinary Medicine. While Payscale.com places the typical Vet’s salary between $45,000 and $106,000. A family Physician averages between $75,000 – $204,000. This is not to mention that a similar discrepancy exists between the pay of veterinary technicians and their counter parts in other forms of medicine such as nurses and dental hygienists.
As noted before, all this is not to excuse the high prices but at least partially account for them and note I am certainly not saying that gouging is not happening, as I suspect it often is. Being as sheltered from competition as vet practices often are, they are largely free to engage in a great deal of up-selling, using anesthesia for procedures that do not always require it, and keeping pets overnight when it is not necessary. If you are a pet owner shop around, and feel free to negotiate, haggle and question everything your vet does.
In part two I look further in to possible solutions to the high cost of a trip to the vet.