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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Veterinary Medicine Is Expensive???

Over the years I have heard people complain about the cost of health care for their pets. Yet veterinary care remains one of the cheapest forms of medical care anywhere. Let me give you a few examples of equivalent procedures on a pet versus a human (all in US dollars).

Spaying a dog--$150-300
Hysterectomy in a human--$7,000-15,000

Office visit for a vet--$35-50
Office visit for a physician--$155 (average, 2004 data)

Hip replacement in a dog--$2700-3500
Hip replacement in a human--$20,000-50,000 (2001 data)

Pick almost any procedure, and cost comparisons would be similar. Veterinarians receive as rigorous training as human doctors, however, we have to learn the anatomies and physiologies of multiple species. A veterinary general practitioner must be able to perform often complicated surgeries that human GPs would quickly refer to a specialist. We have costs of equipment and staff, as well as our own families to support. We have our own student loans to pay back, and default on them far less than our colleagues in human medicine. We also make far less than human doctors (which is why I drive a 13 year-old car with a dented bumper and hood). Yet somehow we have to get by with charging far less.

Human doctors have a large benefit in that insurance is wide-spread, and will pick up most of the costs so the patients are rarely out of pocket. Veterinary doctors do not have this aid, and often have to convice clients to pay for basic, routine services. So when someone has a $20 co-pay to their own doctor, they don't realize that well over $100 is paid by their insurance company. This low co-pay suddenly makes a $40 veterinary visit seem incredibly expensive.

Veterinarians have every right to make a profit. Profitability allows us to invest in newer and better equipment and medications, thus allowing us to serve our patients better and safer. The huge majority of us do not try to over-charge and gouge our clients. There are a lot of costs involved in making a business successful, and a lot of investments that need to be repaid. If we can't charge a fair price, we quickly go out of business. And who has really benefited in that case?

The next time you visit your vet and think the charges are too high, just think about how cheap you are really getting these services for.