Strategies to help clients pay for veterinary care
Julie Carlson, CVT
Julie Carlson is a freelance author and certified veterinary technician in Phoenix. She is the founder of Vets for Vets Pets, a nonprofit organization providing supplies and medical care to the pets of homeless and at-risk veterans.
Life happens, and its rife with accidents (which cost money). How can we help clients cover the costs of veterinary care so they can take care of their pets while we still cover our bottom line?
Some people say, "If you can't afford to take care of pets, you shouldn't have them." The sentiment behind this statement is understandable, but it's not always so black and white. (Adobe Stock)A lethargic, severely dehydrated puppy is carried into your hospital. A metallic smell surrounds him. His owner breaks down in tears when you present him with a $1,500 treatment plan to hospitalize the pup for a few days to give him the best chance of fighting off the parvovirus that's ravaging his little body. The owner says he doesn't have any money. What do you do?
This is an all-too-familiar situation: We want to treat everyone, but if we cut costs too much we won't be able to pay our staff or keep our lights on. Some people say, “If you can't afford to take care of pets, you shouldn't have them.” The sentiment behind this statement is understandable, but it's not always so black and white.
There are lots of options out there for clients, but they often don't know where to look. Here are some of them:
CareCredit is a credit card that can be used for medical purchases or bills, and that's not limited to veterinary care. Some clinics keep CareCredit applications on hand to give clients who find themselves in a tough situation. (CareCredit Direct makes it easier to apply in the clinic on smartphones, tablets and more.) Depending on what the clinic offers, clients can get six-to-24-month financing plans. There's no interest as long as the bill is paid off within the time limit. If not, interest is charged from the original date of purchase. Interest is high-about 26.99 percent-so paying it off within the promotional period is important.
Scratchpay is a payment plan that lets clients pay a bill within 30 days with no interest. Plans are available for 12 or 24 months at various interest rates. It's a simple process to apply online. Scratchpay immediately pays the clinic, and clients make installment plans in the form of electronic transfers from their bank accounts.
If you're on social media, you've probably heard of GoFundMe. What originally started as a way to give people facing foreclosure, medical bills or some other looming debt a way to reach out for help, has grown to include wedding costs, tuition and vacations. With over 2 million campaigns to date, it's a fast way to make money and an increasingly common way to ask friends for cash.
Keep in mind, however, that GoFundMe also takes 5 percent of donations raised, along with a 2.9 percent processing fee and a 30-cent charge on every donation. Because of these added fees, alongside the fear of being scammed, a lot of clients will simply post on social media asking for people to call the clinic and make a payment towards their veterinary bill.
More ways to help them pay
• It's probably not enough to tell panicked pet owners in the exam room about payment options. Use these prewritten tweets and Facebook posts to start the conversation-before emergencies happen-at dvm360.com/paymentposts.
• Need a refresher on sensitive money conversations? Try this algorithm at dvm360.com/paychart.
Veterinary bill assistance programs
Many clinics keep a list of assistance programs that may help clients in financial straits, with such groups as Brown Dog Foundation, Paws 4 a Cure and Red Rover. Larger groups-including American Humane, ASPCA and The Humane Society of the United States-may also be able to help cover some costs.
Putting a little bit of each paycheck into a savings account is a simple way to build an emergency fund should the unexpected occur. Clients can set up an automatic transfer that will move a designated amount of money at a scheduled time (we looked at these for team members here). Most people get paid every two weeks-transferring only $10 of each paycheck will build a $260 cushion each year. Taking $25 out of each check is often not noticed and would give a client a $650 balance at the end of the year.
A lot of people don't realize pet insurance even exists. Coverage varies between insurance companies, ranging from wellness plans to major medical to full coverage. Premiums are typically $10 to $60 per month depending on coverage selected. Although pre-existing conditions may not always be covered, pet insurance can take away the worry of having to base care on available finances. With over 43 million U.S. households owning pets, this is also becoming a trend in employee benefit packages.
Life happens to all of us-pet owners and veterinary staff alike-and we can't plan for every eventuality. But by helping clients discover the resources out there that can offer financial assistance, we give them the ability to help their pets. And that benefits us all.
Julie Carlson is a freelance author and a Certified Veterinary Technician. She is the winner of the 2015 Hero Veterinary Technician Award from the American Humane Association and the Founder of Vets for Vets' Pets, a nonprofit organization providing medical care to the pets of homeless and at-risk veterans. Julie has five cats and two Chihuahuas and lives in Phoenix, AZ.