Payment plans for veterinary care: Is it the next big thing?

Since we at Nationwide’s pet insurance division are in the business of helping pet-owners pay for the care they want and their pets need, we spend a lot of time thinking about the issues around paying for veterinary care.

We study it, too. Our Nationwide | Purdue Veterinary Price Index has revealed that counter to common belief, veterinary pricing actually fell from 2009-to the end of 2015. That may have taken some of the pressure off for payment options — many pet-owners couldn’t afford anything, and for those who could, static prices surely seemed reassuring. (To the pet-owner, that is, although certainly not for the practice owners, whose cost of doing business kept going up!)













Since the beginning of 2015, our Price Index has seen a reversal, with pricing overall going up 10.2% from the beginning of 2015 through the end of last year.

Pet health insurance is a growing industry, with many strong competitors. But it’s just not growing quickly enough to help the majority of pet-owners in the near-future. Not everyone has a $10K-20K open line of credit (the recession and the end of the housing bubble sent many a credit score into “poor” or “fair” territory), and borrowing from friends or relatives isn’t a feasible plan for many.

Many people inside the veterinary community and others such as those in rescue or sheltering have been known to put the onus on the pet-owner. “If you can’t afford veterinary costs, you shouldn’t have a pet” and “pets are a privilege not a right” are commonly heard. Maybe so, but with all we know about how good pets are for people — especially children and the elderly — is it really fair to deny them the company because they can’t pony up for anything over a few hundred dollars, at most?

Not just people on fixed retirement incomes, either: Studies show the majority of people live paycheck to paycheck, and many either would struggle with or cannot pay and emergency bill of a thousand dollars. Say what you will, but that’s the reality.

Which beings me to an article written by one of my colleagues in VetPartners, Tony Ferraro. Writing for Today’s Veterinary Business, he takes up a controversial subject in veterinary medicine: Payment plans. From the article:

How many times have you been unable to provide the gold standard of care because a pet owner could not pay in full at the time of service? How often has a client delayed or denied treatment because of the cost? This happens far too often, and it’s having a drastic effect on the veterinary profession.

As workers live paycheck to paycheck, it’s not surprising that new-client visits fell nearly every month from January 2015 to July 2017, according to the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association. How can the veterinary profession thrive amid such a dramatic decline? How can you attract new clients?

Does the answer lie in what human medicine is doing? Human hospitals, which have offered payment plans for years, are now experimenting with prepayment options. That’s where outsourced companies have entered the picture, offering interest-free loans and manageable payments.

Human health care has realized the need for payment alternatives in order to meet changing economic conditions. Karen Popa, former director of revenue cycle at Munson Healthcare, stated in an article in Becker’s Hospital Review, “From a strategic standpoint, adopting a proactive approach to payment plans positions the organization to succeed as the overall industry demands more and more direct payment from its consumers.”

Read the entire article.

Yes, I realize we already have some non-insurance, third-party payment players in the veterinary field. Chances are will be seeing more.  This is something we should be discussing, as we work to do our very best for our patients, our clients, our employees and ourselves.

Of course, think one of the best ways to pay for top-quality pet care is to use pet health insurance to pay back what’s borrowed (assuming clients can’t pay from their own savings). We have a lot of people who do that already, and we’re proud of the fact that using the Vitus Vet app to file a claim in a snap and direct-deposit to get money put back into your account faster than getting a check means that our members often get their reimbursement before their credit care statement comes due.

Because we all want to do what’s best for pets and those who love them.