How to Pay For Your Pet’s Healthcare

I get about 10 veterinary journals to read every month. Sometimes when I read case studies about pets who have had a serious problem or disease, I say to myself, “I can only imagine what that must have cost the pet owner!” Dr. Barry Kipperman, an internist who practices at a 24 hour facility in California, says that he frequently hears pet owners say, “I had no idea it would ever cost this much to save my dog’s life.”

Pets Best Insurance reviewed its reimbursements over $500 and found that:

54% are for regular veterinary care

35% are for specialist care

11% are for emergency clinic care

This means that almost half of significant veterinary bills will occur outside your regular veterinarian’s office. Many clients don’t even think about having to visit anyone but their regular veterinarian, but odds are at some point you will have to take your pet to an after-hours emergency hospital. Most major cities have one or more emergency hospitals where pet owners can take their pets when their regular veterinarian is closed during evenings, weekends, and holidays. The emergency hospital’s fees are likely to be higher than your regular veterinarian’s fees because, by definition, most emergencies are potentially life-threatening and require intensive care.

Since the best methods for handling some problems and diseases require greater expertise or more advanced technology than your regular veterinarian may offer – at some point you will also likely be referred to a specialist. For example, some invasive tumors are best managed by having a CT scan or MRI done in order to plan the surgical procedure and insure that all of the tumor is removed. Some complex medical problems are best handled by an internist who sees and manages these problems much more frequently than your regular veterinarian, and many times the pet should have 24 hour (around the clock) monitoring and treatment to have the best chance for a successful outcome. Because specialists have more advanced expertise and have access to more advanced technology, their fees are higher.

As a practicing veterinarian, I offer the following advice to pet owners about how they can be prepared to pay for their pet’s healthcare:

1) Prevention – the best way to save money on your pet’s healthcare is to prevent serious and/or life-threatening problems or diseases from occurring in the first place. Not all problems or diseases are preventable, but I’m saddened to say that many of the problems or diseases that I see week in and week out could have been easily and inexpensively prevented. My number one bit of advice to pet owners that has the potential to save them thousands of dollars and even save their pet’s life is – anytime your pet is outside your house or fenced yard, have it on a leash. Also, develop a relationship with a veterinarian and follow his or her wellness protocols.

2) Pet Insurance – if you are self-insured (have thousands of dollars in your bank account or in discretionary income), you don’t need insurance. However, many pet owners will benefit from purchasing pet insurance if they choose a company and policy wisely. I recommend getting a policy that will help you with the unexpected and big bills (those you can’t afford), not necessarily the smaller bills you can afford to pay out-of-pocket. You can usually get a lower premium by doing so. I don’t recommend getting a policy with wellness care benefits because usually this coverage isn’t cost effective. You usually know what your annual/semi-annual wellness exam, vaccinations, dental prophy, heartworm and flea preventatives cost and can plan for them.

3) Credit Card and/or Emergency Fund (Savings Account) – even if you have pet insurance, you will still have to pay a deductible and co-pay and for any procedures that aren’t covered by the policy. You will need either adequate savings or a credit line sufficient to allow you to pay your vet bill, file a claim and then receive a reimbursement check from the insurance company. A credit card allows you to do this and usually enough time to receive reimbursement from the insurance company before the credit card bill is due. You will also need funds to pay for your wellness (preventative) care out-of-pocket.

One credit card that works well for most pet owners is CareCredit. They offer several no-interest payment plans. Some of our clients use this card exclusively for their pet’s healthcare needs. It is also accepted by both local emergency hospitals and a specialty hospital.

One question that comes up a lot is, “Which is better, a savings account or pet insurance?” In most situations the answer is both and not either/or. Those people who recommend a savings account over pet insurance don’t live in the real world that I see every day as a veterinarian. Why? What happens if 2 months into your savings plan, your pet needs care that costs $5,000? Believe me, this happens and is why you purchase pet insurance and/or have a line of credit.

Using these 3 methods to save on your pet’s healthcare expenses will keep you from being in a situation where your pet needs potentially life-saving and expensive treatment that you aren’t prepared to pay for.

The Dentist: A Key Member of Patients’ Healthcare Team

A new study conducted by NYU shows that dentists can be key in screening, preventing and referring for chronic physical illnesses. As trained healthcare providers, dentists and dental hygienists can take a patient’s health history, check blood pressure, examine x-rays and use direct clinical observation to detect risk for conditions such as, diabetes, hypertension and even heart disease.

The study, conducted by a nursing and dental research team, determined that there is a significant number of U.S. citizens who see a dentist annually, but do not see a general healthcare practitioner. As many as 20 million Americans who see the dentist regularly do not see a general physician, according to the study, published in the American Journal of Public Health.

The research team for the study used the most recent data. A subsample of 31,262 adults and children who participated in the Department of Health & Human Services 2008 annual National Health Interview Survey, a U.S. health status study, was used. The original survey consisted of 304,375,942 individuals.

The results indicate that 26 percent of children did not see a general healthcare provider, yet over one-third of the same group, which is representative of nearly seven million children, did visit a dentist. This means that dentists are crucial front-line practitioners in the defense of systemic disease identification which could otherwise potentially go undetected in a very large portion of the population, say the research team.

“For these and other individuals, dental professionals are in a key position to assess and detect oral signs and symptoms of systemic health disorders that may otherwise go unnoticed, and to refer patients for follow-up care,” said Dr. Shiela Strauss, associate professor of nursing at the NYU College of Nursing. Dr. Strauss is the co-director of the statistics and data management core for NYU’s Colleges of Nursing and Dentistry.

Of the adults surveyed, one quarter did not visit a general practitioner, but almost a quarter or nearly 13 million U.S. citizens, did have a dental visit in the same time period. Combined, adults and children who had visits only with a dentist represent nearly 20 million people.

The study also concluded that health insurance, or a lack of it, did not contribute to the findings. Ninety-three percent of the children and 85 percent of the adults had health insurance.

The study is the first of its kind and indicates that a healthy relationship with a dentist and good dental team is a critical component of a complete healthcare picture. Previous studies have shown that maintaining a high level of oral hygiene contributes to overall health as well. Bacteria may enter the bloodstream through the mouth and gums, potentially causing other health issues, including heart disease.

Oral hygiene and regular dental checkups prevent dangerous build up on teeth. Dentists also seal cracks and openings that could allow bacteria to enter the bloodstream. This latest study demonstrates that dental professionals can also help identify medical issues and prevent more serious disease.