Why does the veterinarian cost more? - Star Exponent: Columnists

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Why does the veterinarian cost more?

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Posted: Monday, October 7, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 7:06 am, Mon Oct 7, 2013.

Q:  Why does it cost more to go to my vet than the doctor?

A:  Although modern medical technology and newer pharmaceuticals continue to make veterinary care more expensive, it remains an extreme value when compared to human medical bills.  It may seem like it is less expensive to visit your doctor than your veterinarian, but that’s because you probably have health insurance coverage of one type or another.  Your co-pay or deductible is only part of the bill.

I operate a low-volume practice where we schedule doctors only two pets per hour.  We also put a great deal of effort into selecting the purest, highest quality vaccines to minimize side effects while maximizing protection.  We also hire a top notch staff, most of whom hold college degrees, and provide them with regular continuing education opportunities.  In short, we do things the right way — not the cheap way.

Even in a high-quality, low-volume veterinary practice like ours a complete examination, consultation, and three vaccinations would typically cost a pet owner roughly $120 (although three vaccines in one visit is rare).  I understand that is a significant amount of money.  However, when you consider a half hour with a medical professional and three carefully selected modern vaccinations administered by a properly educated staff, I still believe it is a good value.

I might compare that fee to a half hour of time with an accountant, lawyer, or other professional provider with less office overhead than a veterinarian.  However, your question specifically references a human medical doctor.  It just so happens that my daughter recently visited her doctor for an examination and three vaccinations.  Although my insurance covered most of it, the amount the doctor’s office received for that visit totaled $759.  Before negotiated insurance discounts, the original bill was $983.

This is a real life, first hand example to demonstrate your perception is actually way off.  The same service that a medical doctor bills for $983, a veterinarian bills for $120.  What a deal!  In addition, consider that my client spends little to no time in the waiting room and that we routinely spend an hour or more waiting in the human doctor’s office.  I also submit that your veterinarian has to purchase and maintain laboratory, x-ray, ultrasound, surgical, and dental equipment that most human doctor’s offices do not.  I hope the value is becoming even more evident.

The perception of veterinarians being more expensive than doctors is directly related to most people choosing not to purchase health insurance for their pets.  When asked why they don’t, the truth generally comes out: veterinary care is just not expensive enough to warrant insuring against.  As MRI scanners, 24-hour intensive care units, and other advanced specialty care becomes more available, that assessment is changing for more and more owners.  However, it is still most common for pet owners to pay veterinary bills out of pocket as they occur.

Another factor in the perception of relative expense is the fact that your veterinary clinic bill frequently covers much more than the doctor’s services.  In human medicine, you likely get separate bills from a pharmacy for your medication, a laboratory for the tests that were run, a pathologist for the biopsy that was read, a hospital for the x-ray that was taken, and maybe a radiologist for interpreting it. 

When your pet goes to the veterinarian for an x-ray, lab test, and biopsy, all those charges are billed through the veterinarian’s office – even though a laboratory, pathologist, and maybe even a radiologist were all consulted.  I guarantee the total cost of that care will be much, much less expensive than you would pay on the human side.  I understand it may total more than the $20 co-pay you give to your doctor’s receptionist, but that doesn’t make it more expensive.

Responsible pet owners plan ahead for how to pay veterinary expenses.  Some choose to purchase insurance some do not.  Either way, it is almost certain the care your pet receives will be delivered more quickly, more efficiently, and less expensively than your own.  Now, that’s what I call value!

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