I was inspired to write this blog post after I was informed this week of my clinic’s reference laboratory’s across the board fee increase of 5%. The stated reference laboratory, Antech, is the lab to which we send out of house laboratory diagnostics, from blood work profiles, biopsies, and EKGs, to x-ray imaging consultations. Antech offers the most competitive pricing for these services in the veterinary industry and yet, even they are posting a rather significant fee increase this year. As a consequence, since Antech bills us monthly for laboratory services, we in turn must increase laboratory fees to our clients by the same percentage.
Such is the nature of our profession…what we charge for veterinary care is for the most part dictated by the fees we are charged in course of performing our veterinary medical services. Whether we are talking about surgical materials, prescription diets, medication inventory, or the cost of servicing our medical equipment, these costs must necessarily be factored into our fee structures; and unfortunately over time, these fees go up, not the other way around. What’s more, they have been trending in recent years to increase annually at a rate of 4%-6% per year.
What this means for pet owners, is that the cost of veterinary care will likely reflect similar increases over time. While we pride ourselves in offering one of the noblest of professional services at a fraction of the cost of analogous human medical services, from a fiscal perspective, veterinary hospitals are no different than any other small businesses; and our fees must thus cover our own incurred costs to stay in business.
The troubling aspect of this is that the wage increases of the average pet owner are not currently keeping pace with the current rate of fee increases. Understandably frustrated pet owners will sometimes speculate that these increases are due to veterinarian greed, but with a few exceptions, fee increases are not driven by veterinarian greed, but by in large, the industry’s own ever increasing business costs. In fact, veterinarians from a career standpoint are currently fairing little better than other professions, with average veterinarian wages having actually on average declined since 2010, while student loan debt burdens have increased as clearly illustrated in this article:
The reason I am sharing this information is not simply to frighten pet owners, but to create urgency for pet owners to prepare to deal with the cost of veterinary care as it seems poised to steadily increase over the next several years. The solution is twofold:
1.) Engage comprehensively in preventive wellness care by taking advantage of the area of veterinary care where costs can be more successfully controlled and kept in check. Follow veterinarian recommendations for optimal nutritional to maintain good health and prevent disease. Take part in our wellness programs that are pivotal in early disease detection and reward participation in good well care. Wellness programs are becoming increasingly common in veterinary clinics, and in addition to rewarding participation in wellness programs with significant discounts, they are pivotal in early disease detection and prevention of disease. When routine dentistry is recommended, do not wait. Routine dental cleanings are not expensive when dental disease is minimal; it is oral surgery for dental extractions and antibiotics that drive up dental care costs when disease has reached a severe state. Promoting good preventive well care in this manner will drastically reduce health care costs in the life of the pet.
2.) Give strong consideration to carrying pet insurance. Americans have a major aversion to pet insurance, with only 3% of pet owners carrying it for their pets, compared to 50% of pet owners carrying it in Europe. I would speculate that Americans likely avoid pet insurance in large part because of the sour taste many of us have in dealing with our own health insurance companies, but if the average pet owner is going to be able to sustain quality health care for his/her pet, that mindset is going to have to change in coming years.
That stated, not all pet insurance companies are created equal, and there are many out there that put profit before ethics and what is best for your pets. You must do your research and read reviews, while getting important feedback from veterinarians. Following years of experience observing the integrity and quality of veterinary pet insurance companies, there is one in particular whose policies I have found to be the most favorable to the patient and pet owner of any pet insurance company since the inception of the industry, called Trupanion. Other veterinarians may be aware of other pet insurance companies from whom they have gotten good client feedback from. The point is, your veterinarian is a great source for information on quality pet insurance, so be sure to ask before choosing any one particular company.
So…while I will reiterate that my intention in writing this post was not to frighten everyone with the notion that veterinary costs will be unaffordable tomorrow, recent trends indicate that costs for veterinary care may well continue to outpace wage increases of the average pet owner in coming years. Engaging in preventive wellness care and carrying good quality pet insurance for your pets are the best tools to protect your pets against ever increasing costs of treating unexpected illness or injury.