The “Silent Animal Cruelty in Our Country”: A Veterinarian’s Call for An Affordable Standard of Care

Dr. Jan Pol

Dr. Jan Pol, longtime owner of Pol Veterinary Services in Weidman, MI & subject of the NatGeoWild series “The Incredible Dr. Pol.” Sun file photo by Susan Field. The Morning Sun News. www.themorningsun.com

 

I recently came across a statement written by Dr. Jan Pol, on the topic of affordable veterinary care.  Of course this caught my eye, and I stopped whatever work I was doing so I could take the time to read what he had to say.  By the time I was finished, I wanted to hug him.

I am well aware that Dr. Pol has his share of critics.  Since the debut of the series “The Incredible Dr. Pol” on the NatGeoWild television network, he has had disciplinary action taken against him by both the Michigan Board of Veterinary Medicine and the Michigan Dept. of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.

My objective here isn’t to defend or condemn Dr. Pol’s skills as a veterinary practitioner.  My opinion isn’t relevant anyway, because I’m not a veterinary professional, and I’m not one of his clients.  Based on nothing more than watching several episodes of the series about Dr. Pol, my main impression of him is that he is a caring and dedicated man.  It also seems to me that clearly he must be doing something right, considering the number of clients he has and the number of years he has been in practice (19,000 and 34, respectively, according to information posted on NatGeoWild’s web site.)

What I do wish to highlight is Dr. Pol’s sincere and passionate belief that he has a duty to provide veterinary care at a price that his clients can afford.  He is sensitive to the fact that his clients are “most vulnerable when their animal is in pain.” He also is very cognizant of the financial limitations his clients have.  “For some clients,” says Dr. Pol, “a $200 vet bill can mean the difference of having food on the table that week or not.”

Rather than continuing to quote Dr. Pol, though, I’d like to share his statement in its entirety:

Dr. Pol with horse

Dr. Pol with an equine patient       Image: TheDrPol.com

A Veterinarian’s Call for An Affordable Standard Of Care
When I came to America more than 40 years ago to marry my beautiful wife Diane, with nothing
in my pocket besides my veterinary degree, I paid close attention to the Emma Lazarus poem inscribed
on the base of the Statue of Liberty, which begins, “Give me your tired, your poor…” Well, I thought,
I’ve come to the right country! Over time, through a lot of hard work and my hand up the backside of
more cows than I can count, I have managed to achieve the American dream. But I have never forgotten
where I started and what it was like to have nothing but my love for my family and for animals.
My philosophy on veterinary ethics is simple: “First Do No Harm!” And for me, this philosophy
applies to the owner, as well as the patient. In practice, that means applying a common sense approach
to treatment and care.

 

Veterinary medicine has changed dramatically over the years as the emphasis moved from the
farm to small animals. Many of the small, community-based vets have been replaced with larger
companies operating numerous practices. There is an increased emphasis on the profitability of the
practice, and vet services costs have sky-rocketed, at a higher percentage than even human healthcare,
with advances in medicine and treatments.

 

I know from experience that my clients are most vulnerable when their animal is in pain. No
owner wants an animal to suffer because medical care is unaffordable. So many people will spend
whatever it takes — and all too often, more than they can afford–to provide treatment for their animals.
For some clients, a $200 dollar vet bill can mean the difference of having food on the table that week or
not. For me, the animal always comes first. Always. But care for the animal doesn’t have to come at
the expense of the owner and their family.

 

Having treated more than 500,000 animals in my career, I rarely see a problem I haven’t seen
many times before. The question I ask myself when I see a patient is “What do I have to do to reach the
best possible outcome, in the fairest and most economical way possible?” There is a great deal of new
technology and new techniques that have become available to vets. Using the new technology and
techniques, however, doesn’t guarantee a different medical outcome, but they can drastically increase
the cost of care either because they simply cost more or take more manpower to use.

 

Affordable care doesn’t mean substandard care, and to imply that would be misleading. We
have most of the best equipment in our clinic – we have a state of the art hematology machine, blood
chemistry unit, lasers, and even gas anesthesia — and we use them when it can make a difference. But
when conducting expensive tests or procedures isn’t going to change the diagnosis or the prognosis, the
responsible thing to do is not burden my clients with a large unnecessary bill.

 

I am very honest with my clients. I tell them what to expect and what treatment options are
available and their costs. I don’t want any surprises when they open the bill. I let my clients make the
choice. If we don’t have the equipment or expertise to help an animal, we will refer the owner to
someone who can.

 

The best judge of my care and techniques are my clients. I have kept many of my clients for
decades because I provide affordable, common sense vet care. And I have humanely cared for and
treated hundreds of thousands of animals and pets successfully. Many of my clients have become my
friends, and we have lived through the lives of many animals together. A proud moment for me was
when I was talking to a new client, only to discover that she was the fifth generation to call herself a
client of Pol Veterinary Services.

 

Dr Pol with client and patient

Dr. Pol with a client and patient                 Image: PetsAdviser.com

It saddens me when I get letters from countless fans across the country who are in despair
because they cannot afford the care their animals need. Unfortunately, states are taking the decisions of
pet care out of the vets’ discretion. Through law and regulation, they are forcing veterinarians to adopt a
standard of care that is less affordable for the client. The decision-making is being taken away from the
consumer and the veterinarian, and put in the hands of government. Unless we act now, we may see
millions of pets with owners who are unable to afford to take their animals to the vet. After all, animals
do not have the same rights as humans. Owners have the option to euthanize or surrender to
overburdened rescue organizations any animal they cannot afford to keep or care for. I believe there are
far too many animals euthanized, abandoned or left to recover or die, because their owners cannot afford
the care that their animals need. This is the silent animal cruelty in our country, and there should be a
solution to end this. I don’t think the Statue of Liberty stood for this, and I certainly don’t.

For me, the most powerful part of Dr. Pol’s statement is “I believe there are far too many animals euthanized, abandoned, or left to recover or die, because their owners cannot afford care that their animals need.  This is the silent animal cruelty in our country, and there should be a solution to end this.”

VetBilling.com is absolutely, 100% committed to being part of the solution to this growing problem.  Notice I said “part of the solution.”  That’s because I realize that we don’t have “The Answer” or “The Cure-All.”  Equipping veterinarians with the ability to offer contract-based installment payment plans to their clients is a significant step in the right direction.  But there is still more that can, and should, be done.

I have always maintained that pet parents should do everything they can to avail themselves of all possible resources to help manage veterinary expenses.  This includes purchasing pet insurance, setting up and having the discipline to maintain a health savings account for their pet, and educating themselves about the financial responsibilities of pet ownership.  However, have we come to a time in our history with companion animals that not being armed with every possible financial safeguard means that pet ownership should be banned for everyone but the most wealthy Americans?  I certainly hope not.

That being said, it’s also incumbent upon pet owners to realize that even the most compassionate veterinarian can’t work for free.  It means having the integrity to pay your veterinarian even when he or she can’t save your pet (I hear way too many stories from vets about pet owners who refuse to pay their bill if their pet has to be euthanized, which is just plain wrong no matter how you look at it.)  It means acknowledging that, whether you believe it or not, your veterinarian’s first concern is the welfare of your animal, not hatching a plot to raid your bank account.

It seems to me that there could certainly stand to be a little more understanding on both sides of the “cost vs. care” issue.  This cannot be boiled down to a black or white “all vets are money hungry” vs. “all pet owners want to skip out on their bill.”  Neither statement is true.

But as one pet owner put it – in response to an article on the cost of veterinary care on the site PetsAdviser.com –  “Is there nothing in between top treatment or good-bye?”

Dr. Pol believes there must be.  And so do I.

 

Sources:

“Michigan state veterinary board rules against Dr. Pol.” DVM360 Magazine. March 26, 2015.  http://veterinarynews.dvm360.com/pol-defense-michigan-veterinary-board-discusses-negligence-charges?rel=canonical

“Dr. Pol Facts:  64 Fun Facts About America’s Favorite Vet.” December 13, 2013. http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/wild/the-incredible-dr-pol/articles/all-about-dr-pol/

“Dr. Pol, Reality TV veterinarian, fined and placed on probation for negligence, incompetence.” DVM360 Magazine.  October 5, 2012. http://veterinarynews.dvm360.com/dr-pol-reality-tv-veterinarian-fined-and-placed-probation-negligence-incompetence?rel=canonical

“On the Dr. Pol controversy, from a fellow country vet.”  Deborah Lichtenberg VMD.  PetsAdviser.com October 2, 2014. http://www.petsadviser.com/pet-health/dr-pol-controversy/

“Is veterinary care too expensive?” Deborah Lichtenberg VMD.  PetsAdviser.com June 5, 2013. http://www.petsadviser.com/pet-health/veterinary-care-too-expensive/

 

 

 

31 Comments

  1. Krista Magnifico

    What an incredibly well written and poignant post! I would love to cross post it on my blog.
    I’m so proud to be a part of this organizations mission and I look forward to helping more pets and their people with assistance of you.

    Reply
    • Suzanne Cannon

      Krista,

      It means so much to me that you’d like to cross post this on your blog! Please feel free to do so.

      Thank you so much for your comment 🙂

      Reply
    • Gail Chase

      I am a huge advocate for animals and I have a terrific respect for veterinarians such as Dr. Jan Pol as well as Dr. Jeff Young for their compassion, empathy and love for animals. They usually only charge a fraction of the cost of what many other vets out there would charge an animal owner for the care a sick animal the medical care it surely needs. The animal comes first, before the money. However, there’s something that really does upset me and that is when people come in to the clinic with an intact male dog and a pregnant female dog who obviously has never been spayed! I recently was watching an episode of Dr. Pol and sure enough, there was yet another female dog who was in labor and having difficulties giving birth! This dog was not only going to have to go through her SECOND caesarean section and as if that wasn’t bad enough, the dog was 10 years old! My question is in a word, “why”? Why wasn’t this dog spayed 9 years ago? If people want puppies or kittens so badly, let them go to the nearest animal shelter where there are countless animals waiting for their forever home? It’s people like this who keep these shelters in business with countless unwanted dogs and cats!

      I am also wondering why these veterinary practices don’t put up signs “all over the place” with the words “PLEASE SPAY/NEUTER YOUR PETS” and an explanation under these words exactly why it’s so vital to do this not only for the health and well-being of the pet but because millions of dogs and cats are still being euthanized every single day! People really need to educate themselves and by adhering to the importance of spay/neutering, this is a very important step in the right direction!

      Reply
      • Tony Ferraro

        Gail,
        We believe that if the veterinary profession would offer more payment options these would increase compliance. For example, by offering prepayment plans for non-emergency surgeries like spay & neuter this problem would be greatly reduced. Let me pay $50 or $100 per month and then when I have paid xx% or 100% of the cost perform the surgery. it is a win win for everyone.

        Reply
  2. Kim

    Today, I was told by an emergency vet clinic, my vet, and another vet that while they sympathize with me and my fear that my 11 year dachshund may have a collapsed trachea, they refuse to treat him without payment ful. I was told to apply for Care Credit, borrow money from someone, to pay them OR kill my dog by putting him down.

    My question to all of them was this: while you have the means & know-how to help us, you care more about money than you do an animals life? Their response: we don’t work for free nor are we a charity. Before hanging up with them, I asked how they slepty with their cruel, insensitive, cold comments and “policies.” Why are they in this profession if the were nothing more than cruel to suffering animals.

    No payment arrangements. Paid in full, no ifs ands or butts. If I love my pet, if I am that worried for him, I will “find money.”

    I make $65,000/year and am paying off my own medical bills from battling cancer years ago. I don’t have any money. Someone tell me how to save my dogs’ life. He is suffering because of greedy vets who truly don’t care about helping animals…just lining their wallets.

    Reply
    • Suzanne Cannon

      Hi Kim,

      I’m so, so sorry to hear about what you’re going through. We too have an 11 year old dog, Sam, and he and our other pets are the reason we started VetBilling.com. Our hope is that no pet owner will ever have to be in the position you are currently in. Unfortunately, many vets have been “burned” over the years by clients who can’t – or won’t – pay. Because of that history, veterinarians are understandably unwilling to take chances on getting burned again. Even though you may be a responsible pet parent who will pay your bill, you are suffering from the actions of other “bad apples” who didn’t pay THEIR bill. Believe me, it isn’t easy for most veterinarians to have to tell you they can’t help your dog. This is a painful reality for them as well, and they feel their hands are tied because they fear if they help you, they will lose money. Contrary to popular belief, most veterinarians do not make tons of money, and they must run their practice as a business or they wouldn’t be able to keep their doors open.

      That being said, our company is working hard to persuade veterinarians to offer our payment plans to pet owners like you, who really need it. We believe that many pet owners CAN afford the treatment their pet needs – they just may not be able to afford paying the entire amount of their bill all at once. An installment payment plan helps them absorb the expense over time by breaking up a huge bill into smaller, manageable chunks. The way our payment plans work is that they are set up as automatic payments from a pet owner’s checking, savings or credit/debit card account. Our customer service department provides all the support we possibly can to keep pet owners on track with their payments. This means that vets can take on a case like yours and not worry about not getting paid.

      Our system fully supports both the pet owner AND the vet to make sure that the pet is treated; that the pet owner can afford the installment payments; and that the vet has peace of mind about getting paid.

      I don’t know where you are located, but we currently work with veterinarians in 10 states throughout the U.S., and new practices are coming on board with us every week. You can e-mail me at suzannec@ebcs-solutions.com, or contact me directly at 800-766-1918, ext. 152, and I will be glad to look through our directory of veterinary providers and hopefully connect you with a veterinarian who will take your case and put you on a payment plan so your boy can get the treatment he needs. I will also contact you by e-mail.

      I really want to thank you for sharing your story with us, although I know it was painful to do so. There are far too many pet owners who must face this situation every single day. Every time I hear a story like yours it breaks my heart, and it makes me that much more determined to expand the reach of our services so we can help more pets, and their parents.

      Reply
      • Deanna

        We need more people like you..make payments to pay for your animals care..get pet insurance..

        Reply
        • Murray Dyck

          Vets are expensive for sure . My dog had a bad tooth needed to be pulled . Cost of extracting the tooth was $900 to $1100 bucks . We bought pain meds and where contemplating what to do . Our dog was chewing on a raw hide bone and his tooth came out . He’s bin fine ever since . Got a lucky break .

          Reply
    • Mason

      I work in emergency veterinary medicine and this is a common problem. If these clinics were to offer care to everyone who couldn’t afford it, their doors would close. And, while you may not feel like $65,000 dollars a year is a lot of money, it is more than many veterinarians make, and these days many come out of veterinary school with $200,00 + in debt. When you go to work, don’t you expect to be paid? If your car broke down, would you expect your mechanic to fix it for free because you “don’t have the money”, and you have to get to work to feed your family? Of course not. Veterinary practices don’t set up in house payment plans because far too many people default on them and collections are expensive with little ability to resolve these accounts. And, just so you know, your vet likely does lose sleep over the animals they can’t care for due to financial reasons. We hate it, it hurts us, but if we were to treat animals for free, we would go out of business, not be able to treat any animals, and our families would suffer.

      Reply
      • Suzanne Cannon

        Hi Mason,

        Thanks for contributing to the discussion on a very touchy subject! I think that the main point that some pet owners are trying to make is that, while they don’t expect to receive services for free, it would help if there were OTHER payment options available to them, in addition to third-party financing plans such as Care Credit, Wells Fargo, CitiHealth, etc., which are helpful only to individuals with both a credit history AND a high credit score. (Currently, over 56% of Americans have a subprime credit score, thanks to the continuing effects of the Great Recession of 2007 – 2009. This effectively renders them ineligible for financial assistance through traditional third-party lenders.)

        VetBilling provides an alternative payment option that allows veterinarians to safely set up in-house payment plans that are completely managed by our team, greatly reducing the rate of defaults and contributing to veterinarians receiving compensation in full for the care they provide. We do all the legwork, including immediate intervention in the event of a failed payment, and we provide full collection services too. This takes all the burden off the vet staff, but at the same time keeps them from feeling horrible when presenting an owner with a costly treatment plan that they can’t afford to pay in full all at once. We work hard here at VetBilling to provide a “happy medium” for both vets and pet owners, and we firmly believe that vets should be PAID, and not expected to work for free. Pet owners just want to have more affordable payment options when they are experiencing financial hardship. And we KNOW that many vets lose sleep over this topic! Compassion fatigue, and depression, is rampant among veterinary professionals.

        Reply
  3. Amy Kranz

    I am a veterinarian and I have to say from a professional standpoint I have to give you the other side of the problem. When I was younger I worked in a veterinary hospital with two veterinarians. One was older and practiced very affordable medicine. He did not wear gloves to spay a dog, had bare hands in a dog’s abdomen. He did not wear a surgical cap during surgery. He sent most of his medicine patients home on steroids AND antibiotics and did not do many diagnostics or offer them. The other doctor was younger and used sterile technique for surgery. He also performed diagnostic blood work much more regularly. He used a wide variety of medications for his medical patients depending on their need. I know that the younger vet was a lot more popular among our clients because they requested him. I know his bills were generally larger. I also know we got a lot less complaints about his bills than the other doctors because his treatments usually worked the first time. The biggest difference between the two doctors is that the affordable doctor did not recommend good medicine, thorough diagnostics, sterile surgery and then work with a client that could not afford those things. He just didn’t do them. I try to be like the veterinarian that all our clients loved and requested and offer every client the very best medicine and I am very up front with them about the cost of that medicine. If they cannot afford the very best medicine then we discuss our other options. Just because we can do a kidney transplant in a cat or brain surgery on your dog, doesn’t mean we should. However if I don’t at least tell you that those things are available I take that choice out of your hands. I know there are a lot of veterinarians out there that try to guilt clients into doing things they cannot afford and that is wrong. But don’t you think we should at least offer you everything and not just assume you don’t want to spend the money?

    As far as the standards of practice being too expensive to follow is just an excuse to not change and grow as a vet. Do you really think buying sterile gloves and autoclaving gowns and caps and surgical drapes is really that expensive? It doesn’t cost that much to place a catheter in an anesthetized patient so you have easy access to give IV drugs in case something goes badly under anesthesia. You can get a good ECG, blood pressure, pulse oximeter and temperature monitor on EBay for less than $600. You can practice high quality medicine really cheaply it just takes a little effort. Dr. Pol has gotten in trouble for not using sterile technique and for lack of monitoring hospitalized patients. On his show he has taken in a puppy that was hit by a car, gave it an injection of steroids and put it in a cage where it proceeded to die. He then told the owner they did everything they could to save it. Just because some people cannot afford the very best care doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least offer that care. The general public cannot be expected to understand that because you practice “affordable” medicine they will not be getting the same standard of care as another hospital because you don’t tell them that.

    Is veterinary medicine really getting more expensive or are we just offering more things to our clients? I know I charge more for anesthesia now than I did 10 years ago, but I also know that my patients are a lot safer now under anesthesia than they were 10 years ago. If a client tells me they cannot afford my anesthesia prices for spay/neuter, I will refer them to a non-profit spay/neuter clinic but I also explain the difference between monitored and not monitored anesthesia. Most would rather pay the extra 50 to 100 bucks to make sure their pet is safe while undergoing surgery, but not all.

    So my question to you would be: Do you want us to charge less and not practice the best medicine we can on your pet? Do you want the standards of care lower so you don’t know if the surgeon operating on your animal is using sterile technique or not? Or would you rather see more transparency in how medicine is practiced in different clinics so you understand why costs vary from clinic to clinic?

    Thank you for your time,
    Amy

    Reply
    • Suzanne Cannon

      Hi Amy,

      Thanks for taking the time to offer a thoughtful response. My intent in posting this was not to call for a lesser quality of medicine, nor was it meant to be an endorsement of Dr. Pol’s methods in particular. What I did want to emphasize is that there is a dire need for affordability in veterinary care. Veterinary costs have gone up, yes, and that is largely because of advances in treatment and diagnostics. Because of that, however, veterinary care is become increasingly difficult to pay for, if you are the average pet owner.

      As a dog and horse mom myself, I do want to know all the treatment options. I don’t want my vet to “guess” what I can, or am willing, to pay for. I don’t think any vet should do that. However, a recent gastrotomy for my dog cost $5,000. He got into the garbage and ingested chicken bones, among other things (I wrote another blog post about that.) Now, one could make all sorts of judgments about me without knowing me – “must be an irresponsible pet owner, letting the dog get in the trash,” etc.

      I am not irresponsible, but even the most conscientious of pet owners sometimes make mistakes. $5,000 – if the expectation is immediate payment in full – is an enormous amount of money! It is a financially destabilizing amount for some; for others, it would be financially catastrophic. Unfortunately, the only alternative offered by most practices is Care Credit (or another form of third-party financing.)

      Approval rates are typically pretty low, and even when approved, owners often don’t get the full amount needed to cover the cost of care. Contrary to what many people believe, a denial by Care Credit does not automatically mean someone is a poor credit risk. 56% of Americans have a subprime credit score, and currently any credit score below 700 is considered subprime. That means A LOT of pet owners are declined, yet they still have the ability – and willingness – to pay. Just not all at once.

      Pet insurance is a lifesaver – literally and figuratively – but only 2% of pet owners have policies on their pets, and many have difficulty affording the monthly premiums (I pay $45 a month for our puppy, and our older dog, age 11, currently has a premium of $65 a month. The premium has more than doubled since I first got the policy on him.)

      So…clearly, we have a problem, and that is why I started VetBilling. It is meant to serve as an alternative form of financing for the many, many responsible pet owners who are shut out of care, or must choose euthanasia, because they cannot get traditional financing.

      I am in favor of transparency in veterinary medicine; I am in favor of veterinarians offering all the available treatment options to pet owners; I am in favor of conscientious veterinarians who have high standards and keep up with their CE; I am in favor of honest, ethical veterinarians who will work with their clients to arrive at both a medical and financial solution that works best for all parties.

      I re-posted Dr. Pol’s letter only because I share his philosophy about sensitivity to pet owners’ financial limitations, and a desire to make veterinary care accessible to anyone who loves their pet. Because I am not a veterinarian, I am not qualified to judge Dr. Pol’s clinical skills or methods, and that is a whole other topic. I believe I made a disclaimer as such in the beginning of the blog post. Again, my post was not meant to endorse Dr. Pol so much as it was to endorse his philosophy about affordability and accessibility of care. I do not believe that good veterinary care and affordability are mutually exclusive.

      You sound like a wonderful veterinarian, and I know I would certainly want someone of your caliber, and thoughtfulness, caring for my pet. Thank you for sharing your observations about the methods of both the vets you worked with – comparing their different approaches sheds light on the reasons why costs can vary so much from one hospital to another, one veterinarian to another. It is not because vets are necessarily overcharging or undercharging. It may simply be that they hold different perspectives on delivery of care. It is imperative for pet owners to know this, so they can make an informed decision when choosing their vet.

      Thank you for your comments!

      Reply
      • Karen, RVT

        I am very sympathetic in general to lower income pet owners. I do call some of your need into question, though if you own a horse. It is extremely expensive to own a horse. I know it is the most expensive here in California, but nowhere is the upkeep of a horse cheap. I really do expect anyone who can afford a horse to be able to afford the average high quality care vet bill. Plus, please don’t post anecdotal sticker shock prices for services rendered. We really can account for all of those prices. The same services for a human would be 10x (or more) what you were charged for a canine gastrotomy), but billed to insurance, so not questioned as much. Another short list:
        Vet school and training
        Loans on Equipment: surgical instruments, autoclave, ultrasound, x- Ray machine, surgical monitors, anesthetic machines (we’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars for this stuff)
        Salaries of support staff
        Rent/ mortgage
        Lab costs including specialists at the lab reading cytologies/cancer screenings.

        The costs are the costs. There is no way to drive down prices for services without something or someone not getting paid. Recently, wages for my job (which requires 3 years of school, board certification and continuing education every year and recertification every year) have been driven back to nearly minimum wage. I am a highly skilled worker who will never afford a horse or a house. I can’t help but take it personally when someone who makes far more money than I complains the bill of which I get a tiny fraction, is far too high.

        You deserve options for what can be done that will get your animal back to health with fewer diagnostics or services/treatments, if that is what you desire, but understand that each medical service/ treatment/procedure you opt for is costly and no one is getting rich in veterinary field by upcharging.

        Reply
        • Suzanne Cannon

          Dear Karen,

          Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I would refer you to another blog post I wrote here: (“Medical Bill Madness: What if Human Medicine Was Like Veterinary Medicine?” http://bit.ly/1CsbGSM) in which I get quite detailed about the costs of a veterinary education and the false perception of many pet owners that veterinarians are “in it to get rich.” Hopefully you will find my defense of veterinary professionals to be thoroughly researched and well explained to the average pet owner.

          VetBilling was created to assist pet owners with costly or unexpected veterinary care. The intent of our company is NOT to continue to propagate the myth that veterinary prices are out of line with the caliber of services rendered. But the fact remains that veterinary prices have increased 91% since 2000 (you can find that statistic on the Veterinary Information Network here: http://bit.ly/1GTeCdi, article written in 2014.)

          Those price increases DO reflect the fact that in the past 15 years, there have been incredible advances in diagnostic and therapeutic treatment options for pets. And as you pointed out, while the cost IS less than it is in human medicine, it can still be VERY expensive, and for many individuals, that expense results in one of four things: 1) economic euthanasia 2) surrendering the pet 3) financial destabilization or even devastation for the pet owner if they choose to treat 4) the veterinarian getting paid little, if anything, for care that was rendered in good faith.

          As for posting “anecdotal sticker shock prices” (in an entirely different blog post to which you are referring here: “How Our Garbage Turned Into $5,000 of Veterinary Care” http://bit.ly/1CseoHD) – I posted the exact cost of services for an emergency gastrotomy combined with a cystotomy. Those charges are pretty typical here in central Maryland. Far from being an attempt to “sticker shock,” the blog post was meant to illustrate how something that takes only seconds (the dog getting into garbage and consuming chicken bones) can result in major medical complications requiring costly treatment. And the cost of that treatment, rising into thousands of dollars, is not an amount that most pet owners can easily afford all at once. That includes me and my family!

          As far as owning a horse – unfortunately you have made a number of erroneous assumptions about my financial situation based on that one fact. I am not wealthy, and I don’t feel I need to defend that I have a horse. If, heaven forbid, my horse were to colic tonight and require emergency colic surgery at a cost of $10,000+ (not sticker shock, just a fact), I would have no choice but to put him down. Without the option of a payment plan, I would not be able to come up with $10,000 in cash or credit to pay for the care he would need.

          For some pet owners, a vet bill of $250 is tantamount to $10,000 – because they simply don’t have the cash readily available, depending on their personal circumstances. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are financially irresponsible or bad pet owners. A longtime receptionist at one of our client veterinary practices wrote about this in a blog post here: (“A Veterinary Receptionist Weighs in on the Topic of Clients Who Need Alternative Payment Options” http://bit.ly/1L6Jylp)

          VetBilling was created based on a simple premise: to keep more people and their pets together by helping them pay for veterinary care using an automated payment plan system. Our mission is to end economic euthanasia and shelter surrenders that are due to an owner’s inability to pay for care ALL AT ONCE. We do not advocate NOT PAYING AT ALL. We are advocates of pet insurance, we have links to veterinary financial assistance organizations on our site, and we promote and encourage responsible pet ownership, which includes educating pet owners about the costs of pet care. Sometimes, the cost of that care is a “sticker shock” amount, and owners should be aware that accidents and emergencies can and do happen. In the event that payment in full is a hardship for pet owners facing such a situation, VetBilling is here to help them manage the cost of care — and to help ensure that their veterinarian is paid in full for their services.

          Reply
    • Jayne

      Amy- A very well-written, thoughtful post imparts some great information. I feel there has to be a happy medium between the old vet, like Dr. Pol, and the new, like the vet in your example. I’ve owned pets my entire adult life and I’ve seen vets at both ends of the spectrum. I’ve long believed that there should be some organization or fund (besides Care Credit) available to people who don’t have the means to pay for their pet’s care, especially when an emergency arises. I live in Maine, where there is a great deal of poverty, and I think there should be a scholarship-type fund to help those who simply can’t afford even payment programs. There are a number of programs which offer low cost spay/neuter and vaccinations, but I don’t know of a single program to help pet parents pay for an acute illness or injury. Euthanasia should never be the only option.

      Reply
  4. Amy Kranz

    Thank you for your response!

    I love that you are trying to find ways to help people afford veterinary care! The most heartbreaking thing a vet has to do is euthanize a pet they know they can help but they owner cannot afford treatment. Unfortunately people do not understand the emotional toll this puts on the wonderful people who get into this line of work because they love animals. Veterinarians are 1.54 times more likely to commit suicide than the average, ranking only below physicians and dentists. There is a suicide prevention organization for veterinarians called Not One More Vet. We really do not care more about money than we do about your pet. If we give away our services to one person we just need to charge our other clients more to support our staff. If our clients that pay full price find out we are discounting or giving services away to other clients they are understandably upset.

    Care Credit has been a godsend because it generally provides interest free credit for medical services and they are very lenient on credit score. I have had a number of clients insist they will get turned down for Care Credit get approved for the full amount of services. What people may not realize about Care Credit is that we pay 10 to 13% instead of the regular 2-4% for a regular credit card when we do the interest free rates for our clients. Because we so rarely get paid when we allow clients to set up billing through us we prefer to pay that 10% to 13% so we don’t have to worry about ever getting paid.

    I also think that not for profit veterinary clinics are becoming a lot more common. This has been challenging for regular veterinarians because not all not for profit clinics do means testing to ensure their clientele cannot afford to pay full price. Since these clinics are tax exempt they can charge significantly less for services and can drive non tax exempt practices nearby out of business. On the other side means testing is difficult, time consuming and often not a great measure of someones ability to pay as we would like. I utilize the non profit in my area regularly for those cases which need expensive services but cannot afford them. However I do not have a not for profit hospital very close to where I work so it does not seriously affect my client base.

    I would also like to see more charities set up to help with veterinary care for pets in need. Banfield has its own charity called the Banfield Trust. They ask for donations any time a client checks out and have donation boxes at the counters of all their practices. If you can prove you have financial need they have free wellness plans available to you that include wellness visits and vaccinations. They can also use trust money to pay for surgeries and other medical care for clients that cannot afford it. This is funded through voluntary donations from not only clients but also the staff can choose to donate a part of each paycheck.

    I am all for making more ways to help people care for their pets. What I am not OK with is lowering the basic standard of care below what it currently is. I do not think the standard of care set forth by the AVMA and licencing boards is unreasonable or expensive to follow. The non profit organizations follow these standards, there is no excuse for any veterinarian to not follow them.

    Amy

    Reply
  5. Karen, RVT

    Dr. Pol’s appeal for compassionate pricing may be genuinely felt, but hides many inaccuracies. I believe clients should be offered tiered pricing with options. The first offer should be the top care with all the procedures a human would receive, and a guarantee from the veterinarian this is the best they can do for their pet. Some clients can afford this, and if so, should be allowed the option. If this is out of the client’s price range, then tests may be staged. For example, blood work first, and decide the next step based on results, or an anesthetic procedure without IV catheter, or pre-anesthetic blood work, with the strict warning from the veterinarian that the animal could suffer unlikely fatal complications. The client deserves to get a procedure for the lowest price possible to try to save their pet, even if it means some recommended steps may be skipped.

    But. It is not at all clear that Dr. Pol ever offers his clients a high level of medical care and safety. I have never seen any animal on his show undergo an anesthetic procedure using inhalent anesthetic which is the standard practice for veterinary anesthesia in this country. Are we sure ALL of his clients cannot afford this standard of care? Or did he just never buy an anesthetic machine because he thinks like many older vets, that the old way worked fine for this long, and the overhead will increase prices, and he would rather keep prices low for all clients? So the clients who might be able to afford, or borrow money for the best care for their pet cannot receive that care from Dr. Pol because he thinks everyone should get the lowest standard of care to keep prices low.

    Besides that, there is a blatant lie between the lines of this appeal because there are many things required by law and standard practice that Dr. Pol does not do that WOULD NOT cost him extra money. Here is a short list.
    Providing post operative pain medications for painful procedures
    Putting a towel or blanket between animals and steel tables or cages
    Using sterile instruments
    Using sterile techniques: such as gown, gloves, mask, sterile gauze, sterile drapes, etc.

    Reply
    • Suzanne Cannon

      Dear Karen,

      Thank you again for your comments and observations. I agree with you that there should be tiered pricing options, and I think most veterinarians offer this already. One of the challenges of being a veterinary professional is having to formulate multiple treatment plans before presenting options to the client – because one can’t guess how much a client is willing and/or able to pay. This is something human doctors never have to do, and it creates an additional heavy burden for veterinarians.

      This is something that VetBilling would like to eliminate, by the way. We would like vets to be able to offer the care they recommend without having to come up with all kinds of lesser options to accommodate financial limitations. When owners have payment options, there is no need for treatment options based on price alone. Enabling pet owners to break up a costly bill into smaller, more manageable chunks means that they have a better chance to pay for top-tier care.

      As far as Dr. Pol is concerned, I believe I stated at the outset of this post that it wasn’t my intention to call for a lesser quality of medicine, nor was it meant to be an endorsement of Dr. Pol’s methods in particular. What I did want to emphasize is that there is a dire need for affordability in veterinary care.

      My post was not meant to endorse Dr. Pol so much as it was to endorse his philosophy about affordability and accessibility of care. I do not believe that good veterinary care and affordability have to be mutually exclusive.

      Reply
    • Audrey Brown

      Karen,
      First, I would like to make an observation about your earlier post of 7:44 am. ‘Recently, wages for my job (which requires 3 years of school, board certification and continuing education every year and recertification every year) have been driven back to nearly minimum wage.’ If you are willing to remain with a practice that is charging clients more but paying you less despite your high skill level, that is on you.
      Secondly, I would like you to provide proof of these statements from you post of 1:09 am ‘Besides that, there is a blatant lie between the lines of this appeal because there are many things required by law and standard practice that Dr. Pol does not do that WOULD NOT cost him extra money. Here is a short list.
      Providing post operative pain medications for painful procedures
      Putting a towel or blanket between animals and steel tables or cages
      Using sterile instruments
      Using sterile techniques: such as gown, gloves, mask, sterile gauze, sterile drapes, etc.’
      Besides being an LVT of 30+ years, I am also a client of Doc Pol’s. His practice has treated my dogs, cats, goats, donkeys and llamas. My animals have undergone emergency surgery, teeth cleaning and many other procedures of varying degrees of invasiveness. Sterile technique has been used in each instance where it was appropriate and not once has an animal of mine been sent home without pain medication.
      Perhaps you do not approve of how Doc Pol conducts his business but it is apparent that his 19,000 clients do and that is all that matters at the end of the day.

      Reply
      • Suzanne Cannon

        Thank you, Audrey, for sharing your perspective as one of Dr. Pol’s clients.

        Reply
  6. Harold

    I just took my cat in to have a cyst removed. The cost is $725.00 and the initial visit was $90.00. I have to admit that this was sticker shock for me. I have read a few articles supporting both the idea that veterinary costs have risen faster than inflation and that veterinarians have to make a living too. I think the bottom line is the world is changing. We live in a different era. It is expensive to own a pet and a person has to evaluate whether or not they have the means to properly care for one.
    I have had at least one cat since I was 10 years old. I am 65 now. My wife and I are on a fixed income and we can not afford those charges. If I were still working and making $40000.00 or $50000.00 dollars I would not be happy about those charges but they would be absorbed in a fairly short time. But now with a monthly budget of $1700.00 that bill will have to be paid out of savings.
    We have two cats now and when they die I guess they will have to be the last. It is fun to have them around and they do become part of the family but I think that owning pets is not going to be for people who can’t afford to get the proper treatment for them.

    Reply
  7. Mary

    The one thing I can say about the Dr. Pol TV program is that, if a parent has an idealistic child who thinks s/he wants to be a large or small animal veterinarian, have him or her watch a few episodes of the show. It is realistic enough to give one an honest picture of what work as a veterinarian is really like and if the kid is able to stomach the scenes where Dr. Pol puts his arm up the rear end of more than one cow, and then in the next segment, Dr. Brenda pushes a cow’s uterus back into her, the kid might be a future veterinarian.

    Reply
  8. Vanessa finnegan

    I feel like animal medicine has went the way human medicine .. PROFIT PROFIT PROFIT …in other words it’s all about the money and there is no care whatsoever in most animal hospitals about the actual well being of the living breathing pet … and the emotional well being of the pet owner .. I myself never take any of my animals to a vet except for their first puppy or kitten visits and spaying/neuter surgery ….I believe in Holistic and natural medicine for animals and myself .. I have a 22 year old cat ( I think I am doing something right) I have dogs that are perfectly healthy by eating a wholesome diet and fresh water and exercise .. they are never given vaccines except for the mandatory rabies and they are never given poison topical flea and tick meds and the scam of Heart worm preventive ( http://terriermandotcom.blogspot.com/2008/05/billion-dollar-heartworm-scam.html) My Husky Sasha last year got into a bottle of Advil Liquid Gels ( not mine someone left them at my house) and I luckily caught this in time and made her vomit by Peroxide and water … and gave her black see oil to help her liver and kidney’s .. also for 2 days gave her activated charcoal pills I got from vitamin shop … She made a complete recovery and is perfectly fine .. now if I would have rushed her to a vet they would have charged me an insane amount of money for basically the same thing I did myself and since it would have taken time to bring there she might have not recovered as well as she did because the longer you wait to get the dog to vomit and the charcoal in them the longer the poisons have to take their toll … I also healed her myself when she went thru a glass window and cut herself in some places to the muscle .. I used colloidal silver in the wounds and gave her that orally as well .. wrapped her wounds and I am not kidding she healed in three days … no issues ..I hope more and more pet owners teach themselves basic medical care for their pets so they can help them when accidents occur …

    Reply
  9. Therese

    If you cant afford vet bills, dont have animals. Although i agree vets are money grubbing criminals, make sure you put aside a small amount monthly just for vetbills, so when you have been an irresponsible petowner, you can at least afford to get the pet treated…

    Reply
    • Tony Ferraro

      Therese, we understand your frustration but there are numerous reasons pet owners at times have a difficult time paying for care. We can never judge a person’s immediate situation. They could have just paid $1000 to get their car fixed, or replace a hot water heater in their house or have been laid-off from their job, etc, etc.

      Furthermore, pet owners do not realize the costs associated with giving quality pet care. The veterinary hospital has all the same equipment as human medicine and even more. Whereas we humans have to go to one place to visit our primary care doctor, another place to have x-rays done, another place for blood work and another place for the dentist, the veterinarian has all this in one place, much more overhead costs.

      Can the pet owner and the veterinarian do a better job at understanding each other’s situation? Yes. The reason for VetBilling is to help the pet get the care it needs and the veterinary clinic get paid for their services by helping the veterinarian give payment options to the pet owner via payment plans, pre-payment plans, wellness plans and pet savings accounts. Not until the clinics start offering all these options and pet owners realize the true cost of giving quality pet care will this adversarial relationship stop.

      Reply
  10. Anastasia

    As far as I am concerned, animal healthcare should be equal to or better than human healthcare!

    Reply
    • Tony Ferraro

      Anastasia,

      Animal healthcare does have access to the same technology and expertise that human medicine has. However, it comes at a cost. Since wages are not increasing and veterinary care keeps increasing it is becoming harder for pet owners to pay for care all at once. When only about 30% of pet owners get approved for third party financing the veterinary profession needs to offer more payment options. This is why VetBilling was started, to help the pet owner that can afford the veterinary cost but they just need a little more time to pay. Then in turn the vet can help more pets and increase revenue to pay for all that technology and their student loans.

      Reply
  11. Marcia

    There is always a catch. With VetBilling.com, the catch is that you have to be in debt to the veterinarian in question ALREADY to the tune of 200$+ BEFORE they will set up a VetBilling.com account for you. That is how it works, I already to set something up with this company. I was on a farm and when I moved to the city with my 5 cats, they had to make the shift to indoor kitties because the traffic would have squished them flat!! Finding a place to live that accepted pets was ONE THING. Finding out that not only do you have to pay for registering EACH animal individually with the city. You also have to pay a fee with your rent for EACH animal per month!!!!! Yeah, I lie. They have no idea how many cats I have in here. On top of all that? Veterinary care? Forget about it!! I was taking my two older kitties in regularly to their vet and was paying about 300$ PER VISIT, twice per year. So I stopped all but Rabies vaccinations. If there is an emergency, I will take them to get sewn up, but that is all. People dump their unwanted animals out in the country, and the farmers try to care for them as they can, but there is NO HELP out here in rural states for animals. Out on the farm I had upwards of twenty feral kitties that I left feed out for. Usually the coyotes and bobcats get them and the numbers will go down, but you have to make your heart hard. You can’t save them all. And in the cities, obviously, you can’t care for more than one at a time, unless you are wealthy.

    Reply
    • Tony Ferraro

      It is becoming more difficult for pet owners to get quality vet care at an affordable price and/or find a practice that does not require 100% payment at time of service. VetBilling works with the practices directly and we do not set the terms of their policies regarding when and how they offer payment plans. VetBilling did not set that $200+ minimum. Some practices give payment plans to anyone that may have some financial difficulties at that very moment and others only give payment plans based on certain criteria. Vetbilling is trying to enroll as many practices as fast as possible that see the benefits of offering payment plans. However, it is still up to the practice to set the terms of their payment plan policy. It is very expensive to operate a veterinary hospital and the pet owner cannot expect a hospital to offer services for free. The practices that fully embrace payment plans, prepayment plans, wellness plans and pet savings accounts understand that pet owners need payment options. They understand it is great for their business and the pet owner when they give multiple payment options. The pet owner also, increasingly needs to shop not only for a quality veterinary practice but one that will work with them when there are financial difficulties.

      Reply
  12. Marcia

    Right. Here in the capitol of Kansas there is only ONE Vet practice that will work with VetBilling.com. In the rest of the State you are on your own. You have to be one of their patients that already owes 200$ or more, before you can even APPLY for this, and that doesn’t even mean that you will get it. You guys talk, talk, talk…but people have to face the reality. We, the low to middle classes, have to provide our own veterinary care, just like we are having to provide our own medical care. And if you need a prescription for something, you may have to approach an illegal drug dealer. God forgive us for profiteering off of the suffering of other sentient beings.

    Reply
    • Tony Ferraro

      Marcia, we understand your frustration. VetBilling is striving to have as many practices understand that pet owners want to pay for vet care but they just cannot pay all at once. Pet owners need payment options.It is very difficult educating the practices that offering payment options is good for business as well as the pet owner. Practices also must realize the middle class is losing ground and wages are not increasing to off-set the increases in vet med costs. When practices start offering payment plans through VetBilling, we do not set any limits on whom or how they offer them. Each practice can set their own terms and conditions, we just manage the payment plans for the practice.Through education we are gradually getting practices to understand the many benefits of offering mulitple payment options.

      Reply

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