The Cost of Care

Updated: August 14, 2015
Published: January 26, 2012
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My daughter recently had her five year old checkup and it was a doozy – a bunch of vaccines, hemoglobin level, and of course an exam. I just got the statement for this visit from our insurance company and my jaw just about hit the floor.

Thankfully, everything was covered, but the total bill was $783, and we live in a part of the country with a moderate cost of living. I can’t imagine what this might have cost if the doctor was paying rent in NYC.

I’ve got some questions about the details. For example, she didn’t receive six immunizations – were some of the “combo” shots charged separately? – but the insurance company broke the bill down this way:

I’m bringing this up because veterinarians and pediatricians are often compared to one another. Both professions do a lot of preventive care and treat patients who can’t speak for themselves (at least for a while, in the pediatrician’s case) and who have concerned caregivers making decisions for them. Also, I’ve been seeing an increasing number of reports that veterinary clients, and even veterinarians themselves, are pushing back against higher fees.

It’s true that as a profession, veterinary fees have been increasing at a rate greater than inflation, but so have costs associated with human medical care. Up to a point, this simply had to happen. “Old school” veterinarians were notorious for almost giving away their services. Nowadays, we simply can’t expect people to go to college and veterinary school (typically for a total of eight years), often incurring six figures worth of debt, and then take jobs that can’t offer a decent standard of living once debt repayment begins. Of course, fees that are too high eventually hurt everyone – veterinarians, clients and animals. Figuring out if we’ve reached that point is beyond my pay grade, however.

When I first started out as a veterinarian, I worked for a doctor who was a pretty astute businessman (a rarity). I remember one day he got so fed up with justifying his fees that he taped a newspaper article comparing veterinary charges for common procedures to their human equivalents on the front of the reception desk. As a “newbie,” I was a little shocked at his behavior. Now, after almost 13 years in practice, I understand his frustration a little bit better.

Of course, there is no way to directly compare veterinary and human medical fees, but I’d estimate that a visit similar to my daughter’s for a pet brought into a veterinary clinic would have cost at least four or five times less. What a bargain!

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: mayamaya / via Shutterstock

Last reviewed on August 4, 2015