Explaining rising veterinary care costs

Take a closer look into why visits to the veterinarian cost as much as they do.The Affordable Care Act isn’t just affecting human health care, it is having an impact on veterinary practices as well. The new law, along with the evolution of technology, medicines and vaccines used to treat animals, has been changing the face of veterinary health care recently, and it’s a process that veterinarians and certified veterinary technicians will keep abreast of in order to remain ahead of the medical curve.

Health law’s impact on veterinary medicine

Dr. Douglas Aspros, a veterinarian in Pound Ridge, N.Y., has been feeling some unexpected effects from the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.1 The law instituted a 2.3 percent tax on medical devices to help defray the cost of expanding health care coverage by spreading it around to manufacturers and buyers, who will benefit from greater numbers of insured patient. However, it is having the unintended consequence of raising prices for veterinarians as well.

Despite the fact that his patients will never factor into the national health care system, Dr. Aspros will have to pay the same tax as hospitals and clinics, a cost he says he has no choice but to pass on to his customers. Ultrasound machines and some lab and X-ray equipment are used on both humans and animals, so veterinarians who use those products are still subject to the tax.

“We are not getting any more patients from the Affordable Care Act, and we should not be pulled into this,” Aspros, a past president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, told NPR. He went on to point out that devices not specifically labeled for veterinary use are subject to the 2.3 percent tax, adding, “That may sound trivial but if a device costs $30,000 to $40,000, it is not a trivial expense.”

Costs always a concern

Of course, costs are always an issue for both veterinarians and the owners of their patients. However, as veterinarian Dr. Michael Watts recently explained in the Star Exponent, there are very good reasons for some of the higher costs experienced by customers.2

Dr. Watts describes veterinary care as an “extreme value” compared to human medical treatment, pointing out that vet bills seem higher because they aren’t covered by health insurance. The fact that many clinics make sure to hire expert support staff, especially people with veterinary technology degrees, adds to costs but also improves care. And, in the end, when compared to other services provided by highly trained professionals, veterinary medicine is reasonably priced.

1 Galewitz, Phil, “Veterinarians Say Health Law’s Device Tax is Unfair to Pets,” NPR.org, Oct. 8, 2013. http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2013/10/08/230424954/veterinarians-say-health-laws-device-tax-is-unfair-to-pets
2 Watts, Michael, “Why Does the Veterinarian Cost More?” Star Exponent, Oct. 8, 2013. http://www.dailyprogress.com/starexponent/entertainment_life/columnists/why-does-the-veterinarian-cost-more/article_53d191e0-2f40-11e3-821e-001a4bcf6878.html