The following is the second part of my two part piece on high veterinary bills. Part one is available here. In this installment I look some of the more common proposed solutions to the problem of expensive pet care and propose some of my own.
The most common solution offered to the problem of high veterinary bills is pet insurance. While insuring your pet may help cover unexpected expenses it does little to help the underlying problems of the high price of medical care due to high overhead costs, the high costs of education for vets and technicians, and the costs brought on by a lack of competition. As such pet insurance is at best a band aid measure, that while it may benefit some consumers does nothing to address the underlying issues.
Also, it should be noted that in 2001 Consumer Reports found pet insurance to be rarely worth the price as the vast majority of people do not get out what they pay into it. Though this is arguably true about other forms of insurance, as well. It should also be noted that it may be of more benefit to owners of high risk breeds, though it may also more pricey for such individuals. Anyone looking into pet insurance should be advised to shop around and consider alternatives, including the ones outlined here.
Aside from pet insurance, I would like offer a few solutions of my own. At the personal level I would encourage pet owners to take the extra steps to keep their pets safe and healthy. Avoid buying fashionable breeds with chronic health problems, feed your pet high quality food, provide it with good exercise and take extra steps to mitigate risks and the need to visit the vet. I also favor pet owners doing more research on how to treat sickness and injuries of their pets themselves. The internet puts infinite amounts of information at our finger tips. Find the experienced animal owners or retired vet in your neighborhood and talk to them about any issues with your pet. Also find creative ways to collaborate with friends and neighbors who have pets or resources that could be used to care for your pet. I think there is much potential in the informal economy for pet owners to assist each other above and beyond what they do all ready.
At the societal level we need to cut back on policies that the veterinary industry more monopolistic and more expensive. A start would be reforming if not eliminating the patent and copyright monopoly in drugs for animals. Many drugs for animals are closely related to drugs developed for humans and first mover advantage and the need to stay competitive would insure these continue to be introduced. More importantly removing the patent monopolies would mean the existing drugs we have would be available at a lower cost as generic drugs are almost always substantially cheaper than patented ones.
Additionally, costs could be greatly reduced if the government’s licensing and accrediting system for vets and their assistants could be replaced by a system of competing voluntary certification organizations. This is not to mention that it would save the tax payers the cost of administering such systems. I see no reason why vet technicians should not be free to start their own independent practices specializing in things like X-rays, ear cleaning, teeth cleaning, or blood samples. I have argued that dental hygienist should be able to start their own barbershop style practices independent of dentists, why can’t vet techs do the same? Such competition would put downward pressure on the costs of these services and removing the need to have all equipment for all species housed in one building would lower over head costs.
I also propose we lift any restrictions that prevent and veterinary health professions from developing their own localized insurance programs or that place restrictions on buying and selling insurance in general. Why not allow vets to provide some specified number of visits, surgeries ect. in exchange for a monthly fee? Why not allow American pet insurers to sell their products to insure Canadian or Australian Dogs and vice versa?
All these proposals would have increase the flexibility of pet care providers, while subjecting the industry to more competition. Feel free to share any objections to them or commentary on them below.
Sources used for this part article are listed below: