It’s no secret veterinary care can be expensive. Wise pet owners know that the cost of acquiring and maintaining a pet can be several hundred dollars a year, and that’s for routine expenses like vaccinations, spaying and neutering, and heartworm preventative. What if your pet suffers an illness or an injury and requires a prolonged hospital stay or emergency surgery? These types of unexpected expenses can be challenging to afford for many people, and they may happen on the weekend or in the middle of the night when arranging finances can be difficult.
It’s a common misconception that veterinary hospitals will allow clients to delay paying, hold checks, or arrange payment plans. In reality, very few facilities are able to do this for clients. Veterinary clinics are not set up to function as banks, and they don’t have a billing department that can take care of collecting payment like human hospitals do. As a result, many veterinary hospitals will ask for partial or full payment of the expected expenses at the time of admission to the hospital or before a big procedure like a surgery.
At OVS, we require 75% of the estimated costs before beginning treatment, and the remainder of the balance must be paid at the time of discharge from the hospital. Additionally, we are unable to offer any sort of payment plans or hold checks. So what other options are there for pet owners?
1. The Big 6 – Cash, Check, Visa/Mastercard/Discover/AMEX. Most veterinary facilities accept The Big 6 (though fewer and fewer are taking checks anymore). Consider setting aside a small amount of money into a “Rainy Day Fund” for your pet each month. If begun when you first acquire your four-legged friend, $30-50 a month can add up to a significant sum over the years and give you flexibility when it comes to paying for diagnostics or treatment. Additionally, some folks keep a credit card with a high credit limit that they use only for emergency purposes. Setting aside cash or an emergency credit card is the simplest and easiest way to have funds readily available should your pet experience a health snafu.
2. Care Credit. Care Credit is a third party line of credit that can be used for human healthcare, dentistry, optometry, and veterinary care. A good number of veterinary hospitals accept Care Credit (including OVS), and many can apply you in the office in about 10 minutes. Care Credit is essentially a medical credit card, but it also offers the advantage of a 0% interest rate if the balance is paid in the promotional period. This can vary from 3 months to 2 years depending on your plan. You can apply for the card at CareCredit.com, or as mentioned previously, we can help you with the process in the office during your pet’s visit.
3. Pet Insurance. In the last decade, a handful of veterinary health insurance carriers have cropped up and provided yet another option for owners in paying for veterinary care. Pet insurance differs from human health insurance, however, in that the veterinary hospital must be paid in full first, and a claim submitted to the insurance company by the pet’s owner afterward. The insurance company then directly reimburses you for a portion of the bill according to your plan. While you still need to cover the initial outlay of cash for your pet’s care, many plans will reimburse up to 90% of emergency hospitalization and surgery. Of course, the plans must be obtained and premiums paid before your pet becomes ill as most companies will not cover pre-existing conditions or congenital conditions in certain breeds, so insurance is best considered when you first obtain the pet. If you’re interested in pet insurance, ask your primary care veterinarian if they have a company they’d recommend as plans vary widely.
And as with most things in life, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Many health concerns can be avoided by ensuring your pet stays up to date on recommended vaccinations, heartworm testing, and routine deworming. Monthly flea and tick preventives are equally important. Additionally, feeding a high-quality food and keeping your pet at a healthy weight can help avoid a plethora of diseases like diabetes, arthritis, respiratory disorders, and skin disease. Talk with your primary care veterinarian – she can help you design a preventive wellness plan to keep your pet in optimum health.