I hear all the time that veterinarians have gotten too expensive. Some pet owners go even further to accuse us of being greedy, even victimizing good people that will do anything and pay anything to save their pet’s lives, repair their injuries, and relieve their pain. True, like any other profession, there are bad apples. Thus there is some – albeit small – truth to this.
By in large, however, the notion of the greedy, gouging veterinarian could not be further from the truth. In fact, it is quite the opposite, with most veterinarians willing to sacrifice their own income in order to trim prices and forgo charges for people and pets that we care about. Our biggest frustration with our profession is pet owners’ financial positions being one of the biggest factors that stand between practicing the medicine we desire practice as animal patient advocates, and the medicine we are actually able to practice. As my accountant has frequently told me, financially, we (veterinarians) are our own worst enemy).
However, I am not simply whining in this post. I am here to give you a reason for the perceived high veterinary fees, warn you that this is not poised to change but only get worse with time, and how you can prepare your pets and you families that love them when quality veterinary health care becomes simply unaffordable when we reach what I call, the “veterinary critical mass.”
Looking back over the past decade, the rate of inflation has fluctuated between 3% and 4%. Inflation in general terms is the increase in cost of goods and services sold that happens over time (for reasons I will not get into, not that I fully understand them anyway). Because our veterinary suppliers and vendors prices have inflated at these levels, and the cost of living of average veterinary employees has gone up and their health care benefits have gone up (essentially outpacing the rate of inflation in many cases), veterinary fees have simply had to keep pace with these financial circumstances. If any business does not keep pace with inflationary costs, then eventually they will cease to exist. This is no different for a veterinary practice than it is for any small business. One big difference is that with a veterinary practice, 90% of gross income goes to direct costs of simply doing business, so inflation is even more impactful.
Where the client perception is often that veterinary costs are out of control, the reality is that perception is born from the fact that in the same 10 year span that the veterinary fee structure has kept pace with inflation, the wage of the average worker has gone virtually unchanged. Thus, while the average American worker has wages barely if at all increased over the past 10 years, inflation has mercilessly made life more expensive; a circumstance that involves pet health care as well.
The solution to this dilemma is for veterinary medicine to dumb down its true capabilities in providing the pet health care for pets that pet owners can afford; or pet owners seek other options to be able to afford quality medicine. The former is already happening, with the increase in “discount clinics” that offer bottom basement vaccines and spays/neuters performed in a fashion that was a poor standard of practice at a time before I was even accepted to veterinary school. This is a very bad standard for our profession, but one that people continue to increasingly turn to. For those of us that refuse to devolve into such a substandard of veterinary care, as the veterinary critical mass approaches, we may simply have to scale down the size of our operations to treat the pets of the privileged few that can afford it…a prospect that is equally as troubling, as I never imagined a career providing quality health care to only a the economically well off. Working class people love their pets as much wealthy people do, and they deserve to have the best educated and well equipped veterinarians to be champions for their health and well-being.