The Vet Care System is Broken--What to Do?

Have you gone to your vet lately? I have. Wherever I have gone, patronage is down. Their offices are mostly empty.

The same economic downturn that is causing pet owners to abandon their animals also has resulted in a marked decrease in vet care across the board.

There are a few clinics that still have business, like the West LA VCA with all its specialists. Wealthy people still take their pets to vets. Or poor people like me who have cats with cancer or other conditions requiring specialist consults. Then we go into debt we cannot afford.

The other vet offices that remain busy are those that do spay/neuter surgeries for City animals.

Rather than lowering fees to attract more business, some vets are offering extra services, and, it is alleged, providing unnecessary procedures to pad the bills of those who still take their animals for medical treatment. The Adler clinic in Reseda now offers house calls as well as boarding.

The same cost bloat that has plagued the human medical care system has impacted veterinary care for the last 15 years or so. An office visit costing $23.00 fifteen years ago, is now over $50. X-rays that used to be $65 ten years ago, now are $110. The Antech C1 blood panel that was an average of $106 three years ago is now $160 and counting.

When I worked at the old, pre-Cobb Value Vet in 1996 or so, the C1 panel cost $37.50 and we charged $105, about triple. This is where the money still lays, in diagnostic testing, X-rays, and medications.

Especially egregious back then were the charges for SQ fluids. Back in the 80s, one local vet charged $20 for a litre bag of Lactated Ringers, $7 for the IV line, and 50 cents for each needle. The charges have gone up since. Yet, Lactated Ringers solution NOW costs about $2.25 per bag at Costco, the IV lines cost $2.40 (for the best quality lines) on the Internet, and you can buy 100 Monoject 20 gauge needles for $8.00. The markups were and are 400 to 1,000%, far above the old retail and pre-1990 medical markup accepted rates of 300%.

Medications had and still do have similar mark ups.

Vets will be going through a difficult period for another year or two, but rather than dropping prices and advertising new, lower discount prices, they’d rather have an empty office, lay off staff and weather the drop in income.

How foolish.

An ambitious vet with some cash resources anticipating a two year dry spell, would cut prices significantly, and garner a larger percentage of the existing clients of other vets, plus create a new market out of those who stopped going to vets because of the cost. They would also try to capture new animal adopters form LAAS and County. This may be 30,000 40,000 potential clients a year. Then, when the economy turned up, they would have a far larger client base that will stay with them if they still provide good service at reasonable, if no longer, discount fees.

I don’t see this happening. Vet care as now provided is a broken system. Many veterinarian insurance carriers have a bad reputation for denied claims, and some have a criminal complaint past. There is no vetcare HMO yet. There is no Pet Medical Free Clinic—yet.

There are so many opportunities for change and improvement in the pet veterinarian field, but no one has stepped up to the plate.

Speaking of insurance, Boks is trying to get LAAS to advertise a pet medical insurance to new adopters for a rather trivial amount of income from that company. AND, who is it that has access to all of the Chameleon data in the department’s system? Avid of course. Petsmart? The Chameleon parent company? The new insurance carrier to be? This is a very, very valuable commodity for any retailer. Who gets this private information and at what price?

1 comment:

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