Addressing Financial Challenges in Veterinary Care
Ask any pet owner and they would agree that proper healthcare for their pet is just as important as healthcare for their human family members, and often times, just as problematic. Acquiring healthcare for a pet can present a unique set of challenges. The biggest of these challenges is, of course, financial. Many families cannot afford the cost of veterinary care. Not only for emergency treatment or illnesses such as cancer or diabetes, but many times even routine care can cause a real strain on the family budget.
The remarkable advances made in veterinary medicine over the last 10-15 years have allowed veterinarians to administer many of the same treatments to animals as human doctors do for their patients. But those advances don’t come without a cost. At Squad FiftyOne, we witness every day the impact a medical emergency or a devastating diagnosis can have on pet owners. Not only the emotional turmoil of having an ailing pet, but the agony of having to weigh their financial situation against providing treatment or euthanasia. In 2015, Americans spent $15.42 billion dollars on veterinary care. The American Pet Products Association also estimates that the average cost of a routine veterinary visit is $235 for dogs and $196 for cats. Moreover, a trip to the emergency vet can run anywhere from $1500 to $6000 depending on the type of emergency.
One option pet owners have to help with veterinary costs is pet insurance. This is an option we encourage every pet owner to consider. In the U.S., less than 1% of pet owners have insurance compared to countries like Great Britain and Sweden whose insured rate is 23% and 30% respectively. It’s important to do your homework and research what type of policy is right for you. Pet insurance is similar to human insurance in that there are monthly premiums, co-payments, annual deductibles and exclusion clauses. But there are some significant differences of which pet owners must be aware.
One of the biggest differences is that the majority of pet insurance companies require the entire bill be paid for upfront and then the client must wait to be reimbursed. This is still a major problem for people who do not have funds readily available. However, having insurance will soften the blow of a large unexpected vet bill. And knowing that the majority of the costs will be reimbursed gives the owner some leverage if needing to borrow money temporarily to cover the bill. Also, the reimbursement process is typically much faster than that of human insurance companies.
Because pet plans are not governed by the Affordable Care Act, insurers can (and do) refuse coverage for most preexisting conditions. Insurers can also set annual and lifetime payout limits. Additionally, pet insurance companies have any number of restrictions that should be considered when comparing policies. For example, some plans refuse or greatly restrict coverage for hereditary or congenital ailments such as hip dysplasia (dogs) or kidney failure (cats). Preventable illnesses such as periodontal disease are also often excluded. Pets can be denied coverage if they fall outside of certain age limits or if they are of a certain breed, i.e. Bull Terriers, Rottweilers, & Chow Chows. Some plans are reimbursed based on a schedule of what are considered usual and customary charges, and this can be considerably less than the actual fees charged. Choose a policy that has a straightforward, percentage-based payout. (“Should You Buy Pet Insurance,” HuffPo, 2014). It can’t be stressed enough that careful research is necessary for choosing the best coverage plan. Ask your veterinarian for recommendations.
An Ounce of Prevention
Perhaps the best thing you can do to help guard against veterinary costs is to be active in preventive care. Preventative care for your pet is a fraction of the cost of treating conditions once they have become advanced, and early diagnosis and treatment of developing problems or diseases can increase the likelihood of successful outcomes (American Veterinary Medical Association ). Annual wellness exams provide a comprehensive evaluation of your pet’s heath and his risk for disease or other medical concerns. Proper (high quality) nutrition, dental care, vaccinations, and heartworm/flea/tick prevention will go a long way in keeping your pet healthy. Also, spay or neuter your pet. Not only does spay/neutering impact pet overpopulation, it reduces the chance of pets falling victim to a variety of diseases including breast cancer, uterine infections, testicular disease, and prostate diseases.
Additionally, be proactive financially. Starting a simple savings account for possible future veterinary bills will help take some of the pressure off when faced with mounting costs. Just putting away a few dollars a month will be a big help if or when the time comes.
Having said all of this, we realize that these things can be much easier said than done. There are a limited number of organizations that may be able to help families in a veterinary crisis. Each organization has a very specific list of criteria so be sure to read the requirements carefully. As one can imagine, they are inundated with more requests than available funds. Below is a short list of local and national resources that may be able to help. Click here for a more comprehensive list.
Neighborhood Pets Outreach & Resource Center
A Program of the Friends of the Cleveland Kennel offering affordable & accessible pet care and resources to low-income Cleveland pet owners. Services include: counseling, education, affordable pet supplies, emergency pet food assistance, free ID tags, low-cost vaccine & microchip clinics, low-cost flea & dewormer meds, lost/found dog support
Address: 3711 E. 65th Street, Cleveland, OH 44105
Hours: Resource Center – Tues & Thurs 12:noon to 4:00pm, Counseling/Information – Mon – Sat 10:00am to 4:00pm
One Health Organization
Program for older adults (55+) and the disabled living in Northeast Ohio. Provides financial assistance for necessary veterinary care services via a payment voucher program ($250) and participating veterinary partners. Must meet age & income eligibility requirements.
Address: 569 Battles Rd., Gates Mills, OH 44040
The Bummer Fund
The Bummer Fund provides financial support to responsible pet owners in times of temporary medical crisis or emergency for a pet. The fund is administered by the Board of Directors. Grants are provided by application or veterinarian referral when catastrophic medical costs threaten to stand in the way of appropriate treatment for a beloved family pet.
Address: 269 Redondo Road, Youngstown, OH 44504
Red Rover Relief Program
The Red Rover Relief program provides financial assistance, resources and emotional support to pet guardians struggling with economic hardship when pets are in need of urgent and emergency veterinary care, as well as support and resources to help victims of domestic violence escape abusive environments with their pets.
Address: PO Box 188890, Sacrament, CA 95818
The Onyx and Breezy Foundation
Provides funding and support to pets of individuals where medical hardship is present.
Address: PO Box 656, Tuxedo Park, NY 10987